Banking Seed: Use and Value in the Conservation of Agricultural Diversity

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Journal Article
Science as Culture, 2009, 4, 18 (4), pp. 373 - 395
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Since the 1930s it has been widely acknowledged that agricultural crop diversity is being lost at an alarming rate. The international response to this genetic erosion has principally taken the form of ex situ genebanks. In these facilities and in the international regulatory frameworks that now surround them, it is genetic diversity that is the focus of conservation efforts. This focus, however, passes over the many other important diversitiesboth biological and social (or 'biosocial')that exist in, and depend on, agricultural environments. These diversities cannot be conserved in genebanks. In addition to failing to actually conserve agricultural diversity (in any full sense of the term), ex situ banking projects also produce important potential inequalitiesin terms of which material is banked and who has access to it. If, however, we refuse to accept an exclusive focus on the genetic components of plants, and instead insist on a brand of conservation that includes whole biosocial, more-than-human communities, then the role of banked resources must be radically rethought. Genebanks might instead take the place of central nodes in networks of diversity sharing, helping to keep plant varieties growing and circulating. This focus, in turn, requires that we also pay more critical attention to the various economic, legal and other mechanisms that prevent or stifle the flow and development of plant genetic resources in/to agricultural communitiesespecially those of peasant and indigenous farmers that play such a crucial role in conserving the world's (agro)biodiversity.
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