This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

All Is Not Lost--At Least When It Comes to Seeds

Modern agriculture is based on simplification, not diversification. This has allowed us to feed most--albeit not all--of the nearly 7.4 billion people currently alive on the planet. But in the long haul we may want to have access to 10,000 years of agricultural diversity in terms of different seeds. Climate change and other environmental impacts on the globe may change our minds about what is best to grow. Luckily, others have thought of that and figured out a solution, as was reported this morning on CBS Sunday Morning. It turns out that Norway hosts a "Doomsday Vault" of seeds from all over the world.
On the Arctic tundra in Svalbard, Norway, about half-way between Oslo and the North Pole, there are no gardens, no trees. Yet, deep beneath this barren surface lies the largest concentration of agricultural diversity anywhere on Earth. 
The angular, concrete structure seems more “modern art museum” than “seed storage vault.” It impresses even before entering.

American agriculturalist Cary Fowler heads this international effort to safeguard the sources of the world’s food supply -- one designed to outlast any disaster, and ultimately, all of us. 
In one room there are seeds for more than 150,000 different varieties of wheat. “The most important thing is that it represents everything that wheat can be in the future,” Fowler said. “So, those different varieties have different traits; maybe one is higher protein and another one is resistant to a particular insect or disease. And we need that collection of traits, because we don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s coming in the future, and we don’t know which of those traits will be useful or important.
The project is funded by the Crop Trust, based in Bonn, Germany, and I admit that I find it reassuring that people have planned ahead in this way. As Malthus and many other writers over the years have reminded us, the bottom line question for human society is whether or not we can feed ourselves.

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