DUPONT HAS pledged $1 million to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international fund charged with securing long-term funding for the support of gene banks — storage facilities for plant germplasm — and crop diversity collections around the world.

Formed in 2002 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the 16 Future Harvest Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, the Trust has is raising a $260 million endowment to maintain the world's most critical germplasm for agricultural and industrial crops as well as support struggling collections — especially those in developing countries.

DuPont's gift will be allocated in equal installments, beginning in 2004 through 2007, to improve plant genetic storage facilities, increase staffing, build capacity, and support the basic costs of conservation.

The crop collections to be supported by the Trust are available to public and private plant breeders and farmers under the terms of an International Treaty on Plant Genetic resources, adopted in 2001. A key objective is to encourage crop research and development and assure an abundant and affordable food supply in the future.

DuPont hopes its contribution to the Trust will help spark dialogue about the importance of preserving genetic resources in addition to facilitating the development of new crop genetics that will bring greater value to farmers and improved products to consumers said Erik Fyrwald, group vice president, DuPont Agriculture & Nutrition.

“The world's crop genetic diversity is endangered. Efforts to conserve it must be increased before the backbone of our food supply is significantly diminished,” said Fyrwald. “Partnerships that foster public preservation of genetic resources are absolutely critical to assuring greater opportunities for sustainable agriculture to keep pace with the world's growing population.”

Geoff Hawtin, interim executive secretary, Global Crop Diversity Trust, contends plant genetic diversity is the raw material needed to help farmers successfully address challenges such as evolving pests and diseases, changing climates, limited arable land, natural disasters and civil conflict.

A study conducted by the Department of Agricultural Sciences at Imperial College, London, shows that a large portion of the world's collections of crop diversity is in danger of being lost. The study found that many gene banks cannot afford storage equipment, electricity or the staff to properly maintain seeds within their collections.

This comes at a time when crop diversity is steadily diminishing in the wild. More than 37 million acres of tropical forest are lost each year, and some experts estimate that as much as 8 percent of plant species could disappear in the next 25 years. What's more, over the past 50 years, new uniform crop varieties have replaced thousands of native varieties.

Gene banks distribute hundreds of thousands of samples from their collections each year to scientists, breeders and farmers all over the world as part of research and crop improvement efforts.

Further information on the Global Crop Diversity Trust can be found at: http://startwithaseed.org.