Comprendre les enjeux de l'agriculture

Plant diversity holds the promise of the future, with experts emphasizing its significance for the survival of various species, including our own. One-fifth of the world’s flora is under threat, and botanical conservatories bear the weighty responsibility of “rescuing” specimens that serve as witnesses to genetic evolutions. Massive deforestation accelerates the extinction of species, as seen on the island of Mauritius, home to over 11,000 endemic plants. By cold-storing rare seeds, scientists establish seed banks that serve as valuable resources for preserving and creating new varieties. Unfortunately, this concern lacks sufficient support from states and is often overlooked by agro-industrial players.

In Mauritius, botanical garden curators revived shrub lineages by seeding cut-resistant buds in an ultra-nutritive solution. This innovative solution stems from research by the Vegenove technological resource center, which supports seed producers and growers across more than 50 species, including cereals, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

In France, the National Botanical Conservatory of Brittany (CBN) is running a program to rehabilitate extinct species. Their seeds are left in nature, as embryonic cells can survive for several hundred years. For instance, researchers successfully utilized seeds of Silene Stenophylla, frozen for thousands of years. The challenge lies in locating these lost seeds, with botanists’ herbariums serving as valuable resources.

The CBN has partnered with Mauritius to save other endangered species. For example, the island is home to the last Hyophorbe Amaricauli palm tree, a 90-year-old with minimal seed production. The CBN once again enlisted Vegenove to save this tree.

The resurrection of a plant from a seed follows this protocol:

1. Detection of living embryonic cells in collected seeds using a dye.
2. Cultivation of these living cells in a nutrient-rich environment enriched with plant hormones, minerals, and sugar.
3. Transfer of seedlings to pots and then to greenhouses in a controlled environment.
4. Introduction into their original environment under surveillance.

Recent studies suggest that 10% of animal or plant species could disappear by 2050 and 27% by 2100. Depletion of resources, climate change, soil pollution, and the takeover of natural spaces create an unfavorable context.

According to scientists, insufficient restoration and preservation of biodiversity mark the beginning of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction. Recent technologies allow the modeling of scenarios, including co-extinction phenomena, which accelerate the process. Current children are likely to witness the disappearance of koalas, elephants, or certain insects.

Seed Storage

Almost all our food comes from 30 species.

The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, situated between Norway’s coast and the North Pole, houses a global seed vault in the form of a bunker containing over a million seeds. This archipelago, 60% frozen and plunged into polar darkness for half the year, was chosen to preserve seeds from around the world.

Seed banks are numerous worldwide (1700), with each country having its own bank or partnering with others to create a joint bank. These banks store both domesticated and wild species.

The goal is to secure the ability to produce and feed ourselves. Unfortunately, our diet has become more uniform, leading to the disappearance of 80% of vegetable varieties in half a century. The choice of standardized crops serves several objectives:

– The pursuit of better yields.
– Resistance to diseases.
– Ease of packaging.
– Commercial and agro-industrial interest.

The scientific community calls on states to address the risk of letting seeds disappear, as they contain genes with beneficial properties for humans.

Budgets allocated to biodiversity protection are still too low for sufficient collection and conservation. As early as 2000, Cary Fowler, an American environmentalist and fervent advocate for agriculture and biodiversity, expressed concern about the aging of existing seed banks and their impact on the preservation of seed germination capacities.

Around fifteen years ago, the idea of a unique and secure storage facility emerged, hosted in a stable environment both politically and climatically. The environmentalist thought of the Norwegian archipelago and convinced governments and organizations to join forces in creating a large-scale shared storage. A hole was dug in Norwegian permafrost to accommodate the world’s largest seed collection.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault preserves seeds of wheat, rye, rice, beans, lentils, corn, and other species and varieties from 80 countries. It was designed to withstand wars, floods, and other potential disasters. Seeds from other banks are duplicated and sent to this secure center.

The initiative proved crucial for some countries; during the 2014 Syrian conflict, Aleppo’s bank employees had to abandon their collections but were able to recover over 40,000 duplicated samples that they introduced to Morocco and Lebanon.

This Norwegian bank is managed by the Crop Trust, an organization dedicated to conserving cultural biodiversity for the benefit of all. It was created by the FAO and the research organization Bioversity International, affiliated with CGIAR, a consortium of around fifteen actors working on food security.

To ensure the quality of storage, collected seeds are dehydrated, packaged in plastic and aluminum. Every ten or twenty years, depositors are invited to retrieve their samples to check their germination power in natural conditions.

France has not deposited any seeds in the bunker, partly due to national decentralization in seed conservation management. Independent banks scattered across the national territory have not coordinated on such an opportunity. Some also argue that the choice of conservation at -18°C is not beneficial to all seeds.

French research institutions prefer the cryopreservation technique, a vitrification at -196°C, a method already used in the conservation of human embryos for insemination.

They also believe that safeguarding all seeds in one place poses risks. In 2017, water infiltration nearly damaged the stored seeds. Faced with climate change, partly responsible for this incident, the Norwegian government voted additional budgets to strengthen the site’s infrastructure.

On the other hand, France encourages the population to reintroduce declining species. In this regard, the National Botanical Conservatory of Bailleul, located in northern France, allows the borrowing of around twenty seed species, such as wild carrots or poppies, to encourage individuals to reintroduce these species. Borrowers commit to returning seeds to the conservatory.

Seed Market

Commercialized seeds are categorized based on:

– Selection technology: hybrids, open-pollinated, or derived hybrids.
– Growing context: field or protected cultivation.
– Cultivation region.

The seed market is currently valued at over $65 billion, and estimates project the market value to reach $92 billion by 2028. Cereal seeds constitute the most attractive market due to profitability, increasing consumption, and support from the biofuel sector.

The United States remains the main producer, particularly concerning

cereals and the adoption of hybrid seeds. These seeds remain attractive due to their yield and resistance to various stresses.

Biotechnological progress enables seed companies to offer increasingly targeted selections, including improved varieties adaptable to arid environments. Five companies hold nearly 40% of the market:

– Bayer AG
– Corteva Agriscience
– Syngenta Group

The challenge is to preserve seed diversity despite the economic interest in standardization.


Sources: Modor Intelligence and Ça M’intéresse