Cary Fowler

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Cary Fowler
Cary Fowler - Pop!Tech 2007.jpg
Fowler in 2007
Born Morgan Carrington Fowler, Jr.[1]
1949 (age 65–66)[2]
Memphis, Tennessee
Alma mater Rhodes College, Simon Fraser University, Uppsala University
Known for Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Global Crop Diversity Trust
Notable awards Right Livelihood Award, Heinz Award, Vavilov Medal
Spouse Amy P. Goldman (m. 2012)[1]

Morgan Carrington Fowler, Jr. (born 1949) is an American agriculturalist and the former executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, currently serving as a Senior Advisor to the trust.


Fowler was born in 1949 to Morgan, a General Sessions judge, and Betty, a dietician.[2] He graduated from White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1967.[3] He attended Rhodes College in Memphis, but transferred in his Junior year to Simon Fraser University in Canada, earning his B.A. Honors degree in 1971.[2] He received a Ph.D. degree in Sociology from Uppsala University in Sweden.[2]

Fowler was active in civil rights demonstrations in Memphis. He was present at the Mason Temple on April 3, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. made his last speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop". He obtained conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War, and worked at a hospital in North Carolina.[4]


In the 1970s-80s Fowler was Program Director for the National Sharecroppers Fund/Rural Advancement Fund.[5] Following this, Fowler was Professor and Director of Research in the Department for International Environment & Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås, Norway. He led the International Conference and Programme on Plant Genetic Resources at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN) in the 1990s, during which time he produced the UN's first global assessment of the state of the world's crop diversity. In this role Fowler was the chief author of the Food and Agriculture Organization's Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources, and supervised the negotiations that led to its adoption by 150 countries in 1996.

From 1996 to 2001, Fowler represented the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in negotiations for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. In 2010, Fowler played a lead role in saving one of the world's largest living collections of fruit and berry varieties at the Pavlovsk Experiment Station in Russia. In order to save the Station, he led an international campaign of scientists and citizens who voiced their concerns about the threatened conversion of this station to a housing development.[5]

He has also served as a Special Assistant to the Secretary General of the World Food Summit, as a board member of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, and the National Plant Genetic Resources Board of the U.S.[5]

Fowler is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of Rhodes College.[6] He is a member of the New York Botanical Garden Corporation.[7] In 2013, Fowler was elected to Membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences, which carries the title of Academician.[8] He is one of two foreign members of the Academy. He is former chair of the board of The Livestock Conservancy, and a former member of the board of Seed Savers Exchange.[5]

Global Crop Diversity Trust[edit]

Cary Fowler in front of the Seed Vault being built on Spitsbergen, showing the kind of containers used for the seeds.

Fowler served as the Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust from 2005 to 2012.[9] The trust's mandate is to ensure "the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide." Fowler was influential in the creation of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which currently houses samples of more than 783,000 distinct crop varieties. He stepped down as Executive Director of the trust in late 2012 but continues to serve in an advisory role and chairs the International Advisory Council of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.[5][9]

Working with partner genebanks in 71 countries during Fowler's tenure as Executive Director, the Trust helped rescue 83,393 unique crop varieties from extinction. It sponsored more than 40 projects to screen crop collections for important traits such as heat and drought tolerance. In partnership with the USDA, a state-of-the-art genebank management system ("GRIN-Global") was developed and made available to 38 genebanks internationally, and the first ever global portal to accession (sample) level information (Genesys)[10] was launched. The Trust's endowment grew more than $100 million to $134 million, and total funds raised surpassed $200 million.[11][12]

By the end of Fowler's tenure, the Trust concluded three major agreements intended to protect and conserve crop diversity: with the Millennium Seed Bank of Kew Gardens,[13] the indigenous communities in the Andes,[14] and the international genebanks of the Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).[15]

Awards and honors[edit]

Fowler received an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Simon Fraser University,[16] and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree from Rhodes College.[17] He received the Right Livelihood Award with Pat Mooney in 1985 for his work in agriculture and the preservation of biodiversity. Fowler also received the Vavilov Medal from the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences.[18] In 2010, he was one of ten recipients of the 16th Heinz Awards (with special focus on global change). In 2012, he was awarded the "Wind Beneath my Wings" award jointly with his wife Amy P. Goldman at Bette Midler's annual "Hulaween" party. He was the baccalaureate speaker at the 2013 Rhodes College commencement ceremonies.


Fowler has made many media appearances, including the CBS news show 60 Minutes and the Sandy McLeod directed film Seeds of Time.[19][20] He has been profiled in The New Yorker magazine, presented at the Pop!Tech conference and spoken at the TED Global Conference in Oxford.[21][22] Along with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Fowler was depicted in a 2010 episode of the television series Futurama, titled "The Futurama Holiday Spectacular".[23]

Personal life[edit]

In 2012, Fowler married author, gardener, and seed saving advocate Amy P. Goldman. He has two children.[1] He is a melanoma and testicular cancer survivor.[4]


In addition to authoring more than 100 articles in various agriculture, law development and biology journals, Fowler has authored and coauthored several books.

  • Lappé, Frances M.; Collins, Joseph; Fowler, Cary (1979) [1978]. Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity. New York: Ballantine. ISBN 0345298187. 
  • Fowler, Cary; Mooney, Pat R. (1990). Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0816511810. 
  • Berg, Trygve; Bjoernstad, Åsmund; Fowler, Cary; Skroppa, Tore (1991). Technology Options and the Gene Struggle. NorAgric Occasional Papers, Series C: Development and Environment 8. Ås: NorAgric. OCLC 64068043. 
  • Fowler, Cary (1994). Unnatural Selection: Technology, Politics and Plant Evolution. International Studies in Global Change 6. Switzerland: Gordon and Breach. ISBN 2881246400. 


  1. ^ a b c Hartocollis, Anemona (May 11, 2012). "Amy Goldman and Cary Fowler". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 11, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Akers, Greg (September 22, 2011). "The Man Who Saved The World". Memphis Flyer. Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, Bartholomew (September 21, 2010). "Memphian who envisioned 'doomsday' seed vault to receive Heinz Award". The Commercial Appeal. Archived from the original on January 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Seabrook, John (August 27, 2007). "Sowing for Apocalypse". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Advisors". Global Crop Diversity Trust. Retrieved November 1, 2013. 
  6. ^ "July Contributors". The Moon Magazine. 
  7. ^ Stites, Lisa (July 29, 2013). "Seed Saving on a Global Scale: Cary Fowler to keynote seventh annual Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello" (Press release). Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. 
  8. ^ "Prof. Cary Fowler is awarded the diploma of a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences" (Press release). N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry. May 28, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Crop diversity expert Dr. Cary Fowler appointed Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust". April 2005. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
    Geis, Michelle (October 18, 2013). "Global Crop Diversity Trust Announces New Executive Director". Global Crop Diversity Trust. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Genesys". 
  11. ^ "Annual report 2010". Global Crop Diversity Trust. 2010. 
  12. ^ "Annual report 2011". Global Crop Diversity Trust. 2011. 
  13. ^ "Kew's Millennium Seed Bank joins campaign to protect global food supplies". Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. December 10, 2010. 
  14. ^ "Sacred Valley of the Incas to Send Some 1,500 Potato Varieties to Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Arctic Circle". Asociación Para la Naturaleza y el Desarrollo Sostenible. February 15, 2011. 
  15. ^ Haskins, Jeff; Dold, Megan (January 23, 2008). "Thousands of Crop Varieties from Four Corners of the World Depart for Arctic Seed Vault". Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research. 
  16. ^ "SFU 2008 Honorary Degree Recipients". Simon Fraser University. 2008. Archived from the original on January 11, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Honorary Degree To Be Awarded To Dr. Cary Fowler". Rhodes University. May 9, 2011. Archived from the original on January 11, 2013. 
  18. ^ Sells, Toby (October 17, 2010). "Banking on tomorrow: Former Memphian Cary Fowler takes the lead on protecting crop diversity and the world's food supply". The Commercial Appeal. Archived from the original on January 11, 2013. 
  19. ^ "A Visit to the Doomsday Vault". CBS News/60 Minutes. February 24, 2009. Retrieved November 13, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Seeds of Time". Retrieved November 13, 2013. 
  21. ^ Seabrook, John (August 27, 2007). "Sowing for Apocalypse: The quest for a global seed bank". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on July 28, 2010. 
  22. ^ "Cary Fowler's seeds". Pop!Tech. 2007. Retrieved November 13, 2013. 
  23. ^ "The Futurama Holiday Spectacular". Futurama. Season 6. Episode 13. November 21, 2010. Fox Broadcasting Company. 

External links[edit]