For the International Day for Biological Diversity, we caught up with Dave Hodson, senior scientist at CIMMYT: The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, to discuss why conservation may be the key to our survival.

A year ago today, as the Covid-19 pandemic fully seeped into our lives, The Counter published a story on how pandemics impact the plant world, and the lessons from plant science about managing future outbreaks. This information is vital. Climate change, deforestation, and land-use disruptions can displace certain animal species and, as they come into closer contact with humans, increase chances of cross-species transmission of pathogens. The increase in disease-causing organisms and reduced intervals between outbreaks are exacerbated by two additional factors: 1) antibiotic resistance in both humans and livestock, and, in plants, resistance to herbicides and insecticides; and 2) industrial agriculture, where species of plants and animals are typically raised in monoculture, in concentrated environments. A single pest or disease can devastate a vulnerable field, a feedlot, or community.

Journalist Simran Sethi, who penned an award-winning book on the loss of agricultural biodiversity (read an excerpt here), caught up with Dave Hodson, a senior scientist at CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, identified by its Spanish acronym) in El Batán, Mexico. The CIMMYT collection includes over 140,000 diverse varieties of wheat from more than 100 countries, making it the largest consolidated collection of the food staple in the world. Hodson has been instrumental in developing a global monitoring system for wheat leaf rust (a fungal disease known as the “polio” of wheat that can cause crop losses of up to 40 percent).

Read the full article about biodiversity conservation by Simran Sethi at The Counter.