Seed Industry

Geoffrey Hawtin and Cary Fowler to Receive the 2024 World Food Prize for Safeguarding Crop Diversity

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13 May 2024, Iowa: The World Food Prize Foundation has announced that two of the Crop Trust’s foundational figures, Dr. Geoffrey Hawtin and Dr. Cary Fowler, will receive the 2024 World Food Prize for their extraordinary leadership in safeguarding the world’s heritage of crop diversity. Over the last 50 years, their combined efforts as researchers, policy advisors, thought leaders and advocates have succeeded in engaging governments, scientists, farmers and civil society in the conservation of crop diversity. Established 20 years ago, the Crop Trust is a non-profit international organization dedicated to conserving crop diversity and making it available for use globally, forever, for the benefit of everyone. 

Geoffrey Hawtin’s illustrious career, spanning four decades, has been characterized by unwavering dedication to conserving and using crop diversity for the benefit of humanity. From pioneering initiatives in Lebanon during the 1970s, to his leadership of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (now The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT), to his instrumental role in establishing the Crop Trust and its endowment fund to support key genebanks, Hawtin has been a driving force in safeguarding the genetic wealth of our crops. Hawtin served as the Interim Executive Director of the Crop Trust from 2003 to 2005. Having recently joined the Crop Trust’s Executive Board, he continues to shape the organization’s strategic direction. 

“It’s genetic diversity that underpins agriculture, and always has. If we didn’t have a lot of different varieties, if we didn’t have a lot of different crops, each one adapted to a different niche around the world, we wouldn’t have agriculture. Genetic diversity is necessary for the agriculture of the future,” Hawtin said.

Fowler was the first Executive Director of the Crop Trust, until 2012. In this role, he focused on raising awareness for the urgent need to support crop diversity conservation through the Crop Diversity Endowment Fund. He also raised funds for international programs, such as the Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) project, which has been followed by the ongoing Biodiversity for Opportunities, Livelihoods and Development (BOLD) project. The BOLD project is a model of the Crop Trust’s efforts in strengthening the global system of crop diversity conservation in genebanks. The Crop Trust is grateful for the Norwegian Government’s funding and commitment to crop diversity conservation and use.

For the last two years, Fowler has served as the Special Envoy for Global Food Security in the Office of Global Food Security for the United States Department of State. His efforts in that role to promote traditional local crops, in particular in Africa, through the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) initiative highlight his commitment to enhancing nutrition and agricultural resilience under climate change. The Crop Trust proudly supports VACS through various activities, in particular the BOLD project.

While serving as Director General and Senior Advisor, respectively, at the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute in the 1990s, Hawtin and Fowler led the CGIAR (the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, formerly known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) delegation in the years-long United Nations (UN) negotiations that eventually led to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Plant Treaty).

Now ratified by more than 150 countries, the Plant Treaty supports the conservation and sustainable use of crop diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from that use. 

Both Fowler and Hawtin were instrumental in establishing the iconic Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, built for the purpose of serving as the world’s long-term secure backup repository for crop diversity. Fowler chaired the Norwegian government’s committee, of which Hawtin was also a member, that assessed the feasibility of the proposed Seed Vault. Fowler served nine years as the Chair of the Seed Vault’s International Advisory Council. Meanwhile, Hawtin helped develop the technical, management and policy specifications for the Vault, which were used by the Norwegian government in its construction and operation. 

“Our motivation [behind the construction of the Seed Vault] was not the possibility of a global catastrophe, an asteroid crashing into Earth, a devastating world war or anything like that”, said Cary Fowler in a past interview. “We thought of more common problems faced by genebanks around the world, such as operating errors, budget cuts, wars and natural catastrophes.”

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is owned by Norway and managed in partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the regional genebank Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen) and the Crop Trust. After 15 years of operation, the Vault now safeguards 1.25 million accessions of crops, their wild relatives and other culturally important plants from over 6,000 species from nearly every country in the world. Deposits at the Vault have been made by more than 100 institutions, civil society organizations and indigenous communities. 

Stefan Schmitz, Executive Director of the Crop Trust, expressed his admiration for the honorees: “Geoffrey Hawtin and Cary Fowler are truly inspirations to us all. Their innovative and collaborative efforts have transformed global agriculture, making our food systems more resilient and sustainable.”

Hawtin and Fowler will receive the World Food Prize at the Laureate Award Ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa, United States of America, in October 2024.

The World Food Prize, often likened to a Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, celebrates individuals who have made exceptional contributions to addressing hunger and malnutrition. Hawtin and Fowler will join a uniquely distinguished cohort of laureates, including Catherine Bertini, current Executive Board Chair of the Crop Trust, the late M. S. Swaminathan, a director general of the International Rice Research Institute who has been dubbed the “the Father of the Green Revolution in India”, and Gebisa Ejeta, renowned sorghum breeder and former Crop Trust Executive Board member. 

Also Read: Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Introduces Amendments to Fertilizer Control Order Specific to Biostimulants

(For Latest Agriculture News & Updates, follow Krishak Jagat on Google News)

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