National Geographic : 2011 Jul
• one harvest succumbs to drought, or one hillside is ooded, they have alternatives to fall back on. e challenge has been to show it's possible to increase productivity without sacri cing diversity. Worede wanted to prove that deciding between having enough to eat today and preserving food biodiversity for tomorrow is a false choice. And he has done precisely that. He has taken the va- rieties farmers selected for their adaptability and determined which of them promise the best yield. e use of high-yielding local seeds---in combi- nation with natural fertilizers and techniques such as intercropping---has improved yield as much as 15 percent above that of the imported, high-input varieties. A parallel e ort is under way with local indigenous livestock breeds. Keith Hammond, a UN expert on animal genetics, says that in 80 percent of the world's rural areas the locally adapted genetic resources are superior to imported breeds. Still, a 15 percent increase is far from the dou- bling of our food supply experts say we'll need in future decades. Preserving food diversity is only one of many strategies we'll need to meet that challenge, but it is a crucial one. As the world warms, and the environment becomes less hos- pitable to the breeds and seeds we now rely on for food, humanity will likely need the genes that allow plants and animals to ourish in, say, the African heat or in the face of recurring blight. Indeed, Worede thinks scientists may well nd the Ug99-resistant varieties they're looking for in Ethiopia's elds. "Even if the disease mutates into a new form, it will not wipe out everything here. at is the advantage of diversity." Yet Worede balks at the idea of the developed world treating Vavilov centers like Ethiopia as wild seed banks from which to withdraw traits whenever the next plague strikes. He cites the outbreak in the early s of yellow dwarf virus, which threatened to wipe out the world's barley crop. A U.S. scientist who had come to Ethiopia in the s had happened to grab some barley sam- ples from a eld for his own study. When the virus hit, he handed over the samples to one of the sci- entists trying to stop the virus. Sure enough they found a resistant gene. "It changed everything," On a hillside farm northeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, farmers harvest oats with sickles, then stack it in piles. They may use low-tech tools, but their knowledge is key to producing enough food to feed a growing planet.