Heritage breeds feed the world

Posted by Christine, June 22, 2011

National Geographic features heritage breeds in its July issue, Food Ark:

“A crisis is looming: To feed our growing population, we’ll need to double food production. Yet crop yields aren’t increasing fast enough, and climate change and new diseases threaten the limited varieties we’ve come to depend on for food. Luckily we still have the seeds and breeds to ensure our future food supply—but we must take steps to save them.”

The article opens with a two-page spread of heritage chicken breeds, including this Silver Gray Dorking rooster, and includes them as important to food security. I like to think my work helped influence the editors to feature chickens prominently.

“People eat more eggs and poultry than ever, but the world’s reliance on a few high-yielding breeds is edging out hundreds of others: Nearly a third of chicken breeds are at risk of extinction. That’s alarming because many varieties have traits, like heat or pathogen resistance, that could be invaluable in the future.”

The article also notes that the legacy knowledge of breeders is vital to conserving heritage breeds.

“Still, storing seeds in banks to bail us out of future calamities is only a halfway measure. Equally worthy of saving is the hard-earned wisdom of the world’s farmers, generations of whom crafted the seeds and breeds we now so covet. Perhaps the most precious and endangered resource is the knowledge stored in farmers’ minds.”

The article takes a broad view of the subject and covers important points, such as the claim that only high-yield hybrid crops can feed the world. The opposite is true: those crops are depleting the soil and pointing the world toward food shortages. Thanks to National Geographic for taking on this important issue.

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