Understanding the value of seeds

 

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Presenters:

  • Dr. Ruth Eastwood - RE- Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank
  • Kieran Blakemore - KB - PwC LLP
  • Stephen Aherne - SA - PwC LLP

KB

Hello, my name’s Kieran Blakemore and I work with PwC’s Sustainability & Climate Change Team. I’m joined by Dr. Ruth Eastwood from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and Stephen Aherne from our valuations practice.

Globally agricultural production’s going to be under pressure and increasingly so over the next decade as it seeks to increase productivity to meet demand. One of the vital things is, it is developing crops to meet this demand. We’re here to discuss the work that we’ve done with Kew, as they seek to understand the value of an important genetic resourcing crop wild relatives.

Ruth, would you mind talking a little bit about MSB and what it does?

RE

Certainly, the Millennium Seed Bank’s the largest plant seed bank for native species, and a seed bank is a collection of wild species that have been made in a field, they’re dried and stored in a freezer at -20.
It’s also the centre of a hub of an international network. So we work with over 80 countries. Working with institutes who are interested in saving world flora, and 2009 we celebrated saving 10% of the world’s flora, and we’re now all working together to save 25% by 2020, so that’s 75,000 species.

KB

So a significant undertaking, and I know as part of our work with you we sought to put a value around the subset of seeds which are the crop wild relatives, and Steve could you tell us a little bit more about the project.

SA

Sure, so the key question we were being asked is ‘what’s the current and potential monetary value of crop wild relatives in breeding new varieties of crops resilient to biotic and a-biotic stresses’. Biotic stresses things like diseases, a-biotic are physical things like temperature, drought and salinity. The value we were looking at was across the whole value chain to a number of stakeholders, and we selected three crops, wheat, rice and potato, and interviewed 38 key stakeholders across that value chain to understand what case studies there were out there of crop wild relatives and the economic benefit of that flowed from those crop wild relatives, and that’s, we valued the current crops, the current value, and the potential value was the value of those economic benefits into the future for future potential crops.

KB

So it sounds like a very complicated piece of work, but Ruth, why is it important to have a valuation?

RE

Well crop wild relatives are a very rich and underutilised resource for plant breeding. They’re also a threat in themselves in the wild, and if we lose those resources we don’t have the building blocks for the future, so many decisions are made on a financial basis, so we really wanted to understand the financial value of these to encourage investment in the collection of crop wild relatives and plant breeding for crops before it’s too late.

KB

So yes this brings us to the results. So Steve, what were the findings of this study?

SA

Well, for the three sample crops the current value was $25billion, and for the potential value it was $73billion. Now if we extrapolate that to the 29 priority crops that the MSB is looking at, the current value was $42billion, with a potential value of $120billion. Now the MSB asked us to extrapolate that to include a further three crops which were maize, soya bean and sugar cane, which are very important global crops, and the current value there was US$68billion, with a potential value of $196billion. So very big numbers but you know this was indicative analysis, and we’ve used historical case studies and applied those to future case studies. So you know there’s a risk that you don’t get those yield improvements, but actually there’s also an opportunity that with further advancements you could actually improve the yields.

KB

So some really big numbers there, but what do you think the implications of the research are?

SA

Clearly CWR’s very valuable towards crop development and that value accrues to many different stakeholders, say public and private institutions stand to benefit from CWR research. But from our 38 interviews the clear message was that this is under invested and we need to invest to unlock that potential value.

KB

And Ruth, your feelings on the implications for the work, and where do we go from here?

RE

We’re really delighted with the study, it really backed up our feeling that crop wild relatives were important, and we’re hoping to raise awareness and discussion about this subject and valuing those resources, so Kew is going to be holding a debate later on in the year. We’d also, on the basis of this, like to expand our work with crop wild relatives, particularly next I think looking at soya bean, which you highlighted as having a high financial value, and crop wild relatives aren’t the only thing that we hold in our collection, so we’d be interested in looking at the value of the whole of our collections.

KB

OK, so complicated but fascinating area. Thank you so much for joining us today, thanks Ruth, thanks Stephen, and thank you for joining us too.

Our research is based on an analysis of how the productivity and resilience of four staple crops - wheat, rice, potato and cassava (a root vegetable common in Africa, Central and South America) - could be improved through the collection and use of their Crop Wild Relative’s (CWR) genetic traits.

Crop Wild Relatives, the wild cousins of staple foods like rice, wheat and potato were used as early as the 1950s to breed new crop varieties that improve or protect crops. This included the creation of nutritionally enhanced varieties of broccoli and a disease resistant banana.

As the global environment changes, studies have identified the risk of a significant shortfall in crop production to meet the needs of urbanisation and a growing global population. New crop varieties will be needed to improve production and CWR genetic material will be crucial in bridging this shortfall.

The analysis is part of an initiative led by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust to gather the crop wild relatives of 29 priority gene pools. Without the CWR collection there is a risk that many wild relatives already in existence will suffer a loss of genetic diversity or, in severe cases, become extinct, through pressures of continued development and urbanisation.

“For the first time, PwC’s research has allowed us to understand the potential monetary value of the work of the Millennium Seed Bank in protecting the future of some of the world’s most important staple crops. Critically the valuation is not just about dollar signs, it supports the business case for investment in CWR collection activity and crop breeding research to help realise direct yield improvement, greater disease resistance and crops’ ability to deal with extremes of environment.”

Paul Smith
Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank