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By Gerard Wynn
LONDON (Reuters) - Seed banks need a further $250 million (148.6 million pounds) to preserve all varieties of food crops including those which may best survive future climate changes, the Global Crop Diversity Trust said Wednesday.
The crop trust is the main supporter of a seed vault in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, intended as a global back-up for food crops, and says it needs more money to complete that project and support other, more accessible seed banks worldwide.
"The reality is that this is a resource which is still not protected, the wild relatives of our cultivated crops are still endangered in the field but are a potent resource for climate change adaptation," the executive director of the trust, Cary Fowler, told Reuters.
The trust joined 60 agricultural experts in a statement published Wednesday at a Food Summit in Rome, highlighting the threat to food security posed by climate change.
Seed banks could preserve the crops that will emerge as the most resilient to future warming, the signatories said.
"The magnitude of change now being forecast, even in relatively optimistic scenarios, is historically unprecedented, and our agricultural systems are still largely unprepared to face it," a statement read.
Fowler estimated Svalbard had copies of nearly half a million food crop varieties, representing most of the diversity of major crops, compared with 1 to 1.5 million distinct varieties of all food crops.
Funds were needed especially to support working, local seed banks. "Something in the area of $350 million in an endowment would generate enough income annually to conserve all of crop diversity forever. We have about $100 million now, we're a third, a quarter of the way there," he said.
Government leaders and officials are meeting at a U.N.-led, November 16-18 food summit in Rome to discuss how to reduce hunger in the face of a global economic downturn.
World leaders meeting at a U.N. global warming summit in Copenhagen in December must address the issue of agriculture.
Farmers would encounter problems "they have never before experienced," they said, referring to hotter days, shorter growing seasons, more drought and new combinations of pests and diseases.
"We're saying no credible agreement on climate change can ignore agriculture," said the crop trust's Cary Fowler.
(Editing by Jon Hemming)