Biodiversity: Genetic Diversity
of Grain and Grasses
Grain and Grass Seed Conservancy International
Up to 75% of the grain and grass cultivars in U.S. government seed banks reportedly do not germinate due to insufficient grow-outs of these varieties to ensure viability2. In addition, easy public access to information about these crops is limited. Grain and Grass Seed Conservancy International (GGSCI) is a new non-profit organization, the purposes of which parallel those of Seed Savers Exchange, but which operates in the area of grain and grass crops. With a foundation of expertise and knowledge from our grain and grass experts, the goal of GGSCI is four-fold:
• Preserve crop biodiversity by saving over 60,000 varieties of grain and grass seeds in a seed bank and maintaining their viability through scheduled grow-outs.
• To understand how these crops have been used traditionally, in order to better inform farmers and breeders about potential uses in growing, marketing and hybridization.
• To make these seeds and the information about them available to researchers, breeders, farmers, and the general public through a web site with a database, and through seed sales.
• To train interns, and to facilitate similar programs in seed-saving, research and information sharing around the world. This will include the development and production of two educational videos about this work—a PBS-TV special for the general public and a “how-to” video to facilitate the setting-up of similar organizations.
The difference between GGSCI and other seed banks lies in regeneration, documentation, and access policies:
• Regeneration: GGSCI will have the expertise and manpower necessary to maintain seed vigor by planting and growing fresh stock for all varieties in a timely manner, in living soil where microbial populations are carefully nurtured; growing seed stock in soils that are pure and uncontaminated by chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides will insure that the seed stock is strong, healthy and adaptable, and can grow well without reliance on artificial additives.
• Documentation: GGSCI will not only store and maintain its seeds, it will also meticulously document information about them that will assist farmers and researchers to better understand their history, characteristics, and potential uses. This documentation will be available online, via a searchable database.
• Access: While seed banks provide an insurance policy against species loss, it is also important to encourage the public to plant and use the varieties, creating a myriad of “mini-banks” in the form of living gardens. GGSCI will maintain an “open door” policy, welcoming and encouraging the public to request and use the seeds and the information about them, creating a pool of informed users who will increase the functioning populations the species they plant. While researchers and professionals will also have access to the GGSCI seed bank, a scientific credential will not be a prerequisite for access to the seeds or the database.
2 Raeburn, Paul. The Last Harvest: The Genetic Gamble That Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture. NY Simon $ Shuster, 1995 pp 84-87