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The Ultimate Crop Insurance

A new treaty strives to save 10,000 years of plant breeding

2:12pm, September 7, 2004

In late summer 2002, looters threatened war-engulfed Afghanistan's agricultural heritage. Unknown pillagers dumped stocks of carefully labeled seeds as they ransacked buildings in Ghazni and Jalalabad, where the material had been hidden for safekeeping. All the looters wanted, apparently, were the plastic and glass jars in which the seeds were stored. The scattered seeds weren't the starter for next year's crops but the genetic backup for the agrarian nation's agriculture. The catalogued seeds of various strains of wheat, barley, chickpeas, lentils, almonds, pomegranates, and melons would have been deployed to create new seed supplies if drought, insects, or some other disaster had wiped out the region's production of crop seeds. They also represented the raw material for creating future lines of crops.

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