The impending threat of global climate change makes the storage and maintenance of crop diversity, held in the form of seeds in gene banks around the world, more important than ever before. “Crop diversity is agriculture’s greatest resource for adaptation, the foundation for future efforts to feed the world,” argues Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group vice president and special envoy for climate change, in an article she recently wrote for Scientific American. “The key to facing issues of climate changes, pests and diseases is maintaining this diversity.”
A study by Harvard University has recently shown that rising carbon dioxide levels have the potential to lower the nutritional levels of key crops, particularly wheat and maize. Kyte suggests that maintaining diversity, especially in gene banks, is necessary in order to be able to provide scientists with the genetic information they need to create varieties that can withstand higher levels of carbon dioxide or other environmental changes associated with global climate change. The work done by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (in collaboration with 10 CGIAR centers) to safeguard nearly 800,000 samples of food crops in gene banks such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is crucial, she argues, if we seek to ensure food security in the face of a changing climate. Kyte asserts, “Every climate-driven dip in crop production has a price in human life attached to it.”
In the article, Kyte also highlights the role of the World Bank in protecting against climate change. The World Bank helped to establish the CGIAR in 1971, and still administers its fund today. In her capacity at the World Bank and as chair of the CGIAR Fund Council, Kyte helps to oversee decisions related to the funding of these organizations relative to their work on climate change adaptation, mitigation and climate finance taking place across the institutions of the World Bank Group. She previously served as World Bank vice president for sustainable development, and was the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) vice president for business advisory services and a member of IFC’s management team.