Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Ancestral seeds favor adaptation to the climate crisis

The security collection of the Bank of Plant Genetic Resources of Spain houses 44,000 varieties of crops. A valuable treasure found in the Center for Plant Genetic Resources and Sustainable Agriculture of the National Institute of Agricultural and Food Research and Technology (INIA-CSIC), a public body. Is the Spanish Svalbard. And it is located in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid).

Lucia de la Rosa, researcher at the Plant Genetic Resources Center, explains that the security collection it is not exchanged and remains for conservation. In addition, the bank has a winter cereal collection such as wheat, oats, barley or rye and legumes such as chickpea, lentils or beans composed of 24,000 samples and that they are exchanged.

Ancestral seeds favor adaptation to the climate crisis

The objective of these banks is to recover and preserve the autochthonous varieties that farmers have grown over time

“Us we visit farmers and we talk with them about their seeds and when we see that it is at risk of disappearance because they are going to stop growing it, we collect a sample of seeds, the we multiply in the field to obtain more quantity, and we dry them up to 5% humidity to preserve them in two collections, one in a cold room of minus 18 degrees and the other of minus 4 degrees, in the germoplasm Bank“explains De la Rosa.

What’s more, vegetable seeds They are sent to the two largest genebanks in Spain: the COMAV of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the APPOINTMENT of the University of Zaragoza. The next seed recovery will be in Soria. De la Rosa will travel to Ágreda for the red thistle harvest, an emblematic variety that is recovering.

Better adapted to climate change

“The banks are a very clear support against the needs of climate change and it is one of our current lines of work. We are here. looking for diversity and those that have more adaptation to what is coming our way, such as drought, “he points out. De la Rosa.

One of his lines of work is with vetch, a forage legume for livestock and for grain, and they analyze which of the varieties they have in the collection performs better in water scarcity. “If we did not have all this diversity housed in the banks We couldn’t do these studies. “He adds. Varieties that have been grown for years in commercial agriculture require a lot of water and fertilizer inputs, but they are not adapted to scarcity. Orchard in the University City of Madrid. (EFE / Juan C. Hidalgo)

The homegardens they host an extraordinary diversity of crops that conventional agriculture has ruled out. The recovery of local varieties and the preservation of genetic diversity has made, in Navarra, more than 50 market gardeners and gardeners contribute their varieties and 78 seeds have already been recovered that are part of the natural heritage and they ran the risk of disappearing. These varieties are better adapted to the climate of the area and will be more resistant alterations caused by climate change.

“We are looking for varieties of horticultural crops that have been used in orchards for many years and that have been preserved thanks to the gardeners and gardeners who continue to cultivate them. If these varieties do not recover they will soon disappear“, Explain Solomon Sadaba, responsible for INTIA experimental farm in Sartaguda.

“These varieties have been cultivated for a long time and they are very well adapted to the area, because those that are better adapted have been staying, and it is very possible that they have much more capacity to adapt and endure stronger changes like climate change, “says Sádaba.

Once recovered, they are made available to farmers, research centers or companies to be cultivated again.

Commercial agriculture has the same varieties almost everywhere, with little genetic diversity. “The field is very uniform as for the varieties that are used. The varieties that work better agronomically and that have more production are those that are used, “explains Sádaba. In addition, the genetic improvement of commercial varieties is on the way to production, appearance or conservation of the product.

There are varieties that, since they are not commercially produced, have been lost, because their cultivation was very localized in private gardens. To prevent that natural heritage from disappearing, in the NAdapta project they have asked farmers for collaboration to recover these seeds, cultivate them, produce seeds and save them in the germplasm bank of Zaragoza. The LIFE-IP NAdapta-CC project is part of the integrated strategy for adaptation of Navarra to climate change.

All these products have genetic characteristics and are highly adapted to the area where they are grown. Stand out as varieties the Narbarte tomato, Red bean from low bush, white bean from high bush, Salvatierra onion, black cabbage, Magaña tomato, bean txiki and varieties intended for animal feed have also been collected, such as turnips and red clover.

Conservation of local culture

“We run the risk that the moment the gardener dies, there is much knowledge that dies with him because already no transmission from generation to generation, and those local varieties are lost“Sadaba points out. With this recovery of seeds, a way of life and a rural culture that is being lost is also preserved.” The seed keepers are also the witnesses and maintainers of a ancient cultural tradition based on the experience of generations of market gardeners and customs that have been transmitted from parents to children“, comments Sádaba.

Recovering a variety is not only the genetics of each plant, but everything that is around such as social and cultural aspects, that they would also be lost. As a curiosity, melona seeds have been collected, a variety of melon with which sweets were made and that they stopped making, but have returned to recover to make pastries with it, thanks to the seed collection.

The varieties recovered in the INTIA of tomato, chilli, pepper, corn, beans, squash, onions, broad beans, turnip or bean they are public, so anyone who wants to grow those seeds can request them and so on help maintain genetic diversity.

Faced with the obvious signs of climate change, experts have looked at the traditional field, to small home gardens that continue to provide quality food and that these ancient seeds well adapted to their particular environments have for generations proven their rresistance against diseases and adverse weather conditions.


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