Cary Fowler

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Cary Fowler
Cary Fowler - Pop!Tech 2007.jpg
Fowler in 2007
Morgan Carrington Fowler, Jr.[1]

1949 (age 73–74)[2]
Alma materRhodes College, Simon Fraser University, Uppsala University
Known forSvalbard Global Seed Vault, Crop Trust
(m. 2012)
AwardsRight Livelihood Award, Heinz Award, Vavilov Medal

Morgan Carrington "Cary" Fowler Jr. (born 1949) is an American agriculturalist and the former executive director of the Crop Trust, currently serving as a senior advisor to the trust. On May 5 2022, Dr. Fowler joined the U.S. Department of State as U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security.[3]


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, and 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.[4][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". During the Vietnam War, he obtained conscientious objector status and worked at a hospital in North Carolina.[5]


In the 1970s-80s Fowler was Program Director for the National Sharecroppers Fund/Rural Advancement Fund.[6] Following this, he served as Professor and Director of Research in the Department for International Environment & Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås, Norway. He also led the International Conference and Programme on Plant Genetic Resources at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN) in the 1990s. There, he produced the UN's first global assessment of the state of the world's crop diversity and was the chief author of the Food and Agriculture Organization's Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources. He subsequently 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, he 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.[6]

In 2013, Fowler was elected to Membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences, which carries the title of Academician.[7] He is one of two foreign members of the Academy.

Fowler has also previously 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, as the chair of the board of The Livestock Conservancy, as a member of the Seed Savers Exchange board, and as a member of the National Plant Genetic Resources Board of the U.S.[6] Fowler is also a member of the New York Botanical Garden Corporation.[8]

On June 1, 2015, United States President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint Fowler as a Member of the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development.[9]

In April 2017, Fowler was elected Chair of the Board of Trustees of Rhodes College.[10]

After being appointed by U.S. President Joe Biden, Fowler officially join the Office of Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State on May 5, 2022.

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.[6][11] 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 one million distinct crop varieties.[12]

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.[13][11][14]

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)[15] was launched. The Trust's endowment grew more than $100 million to $134 million, and total funds raised surpassed $200 million.[16][17]

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,[18] the indigenous communities in the Andes,[19] and the international genebanks of the Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).[20]

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.[6][11]

Awards and honors[edit]

Fowler has received several honorary degrees, including an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Simon Fraser University,[21] an Honorary Doctorate of Science degree from Rhodes College,[22] and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree from Oberlin College.[23] He received the Right Livelihood Award with Pat Mooney in 1985 for his work in agriculture and the preservation of biodiversity. Fowler has also received the Vavilov Medal from the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences.[13] In 2010, he was one of ten recipients of the 16th Annual Heinz Awards with a special focus on global change.[24] 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 and received the 2015 William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation from the Missouri Botanical Garden.[25]

In 2016 Fowler received the Frank N. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources, given by the Crop Science Society of America.[26] He and his wife Amy Goldman Fowler jointly received the "Visionary" Award from the American Visionary Art Museum.[27]

Fowler's book Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault was awarded the 2016 Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for best book in the Ecology/Environment category.[28]

Fowler received the 2018 Thomas Jefferson Medal in Citizen Leadership, awarded jointly by the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, and gave the keynote address at Monticello on the occasion of Jefferson's 275th birthday.[29]


Fowler has made many media appearances, including the CBS news show 60 Minutes.[30] He has been profiled in The New Yorker magazine, presented at the Pop!Tech conference and spoken at the TED Global Conference in Oxford.[31][32]

Fowler was the focus of the 2013 documentary Seeds of Time, directed by director Sandy McLeod.[33] The film centers on Fowler's work to protect the world's food supply with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the challenges facing seed protection and genetic diversity efforts as a result of climate change.[34] It was produced by J. D. Marlow, Emily Triantaphyllis, and Chiemi Karasawa. Seeds of Time won the Audience Award at the San Francisco Green Film Festival 2014, Best Film at the Portland EcoFilm Festival 2014,[35] and Best Cinematography at the Costa Rica Film Festival (Internacional de Cine) 2014. It was an official selection at South by Southwest 2014 and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2014, and has been screened more than 90 times.

Personal life[edit]

In 2012, Fowler married author, gardener, and seed saving advocate Amy P. Goldman. He has two children and is a melanoma and testicular cancer survivor.[1][5]


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 978-0-345-29818-8.
  • Fowler, Cary; Mooney, Pat R. (1990). Shattering: Food, Politics and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 978-0-8165-1181-5.
  • Berg, Trygve; Bjoernstad, Åsmund; Fowler, Cary; Skroppa, Tore (1991). Technology Options and the Gene Struggle. NorAgric Occasional Papers, Series C: Development and Environment. Vol. 8. Ås: NorAgric. OCLC 64068043.
  • Fowler, Cary (1994). Unnatural Selection: Technology, Politics and Plant Evolution. International Studies in Global Change. Vol. 6. Switzerland: Gordon and Breach. ISBN 978-2-88124-640-1.
  • Fowler, Cary (2016). Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault. Westport, CT: Prospecta. ISBN 978-1-63226-057-4.


  1. ^ a b c Hartocollis, Anemona (May 11, 2012). "Amy Goldman and Cary Fowler". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 12, 2013. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Akers, Greg (September 22, 2011). "The Man Who Saved The World". Memphis Flyer. Archived from the original on September 8, 2012.
  3. ^ "Welcoming Dr. Cary Fowler as Special Envoy for Global Food Security".
  4. ^ Sullivan, Bartholomew (September 21, 2010). "Memphian who envisioned 'doomsday' seed vault to receive Heinz Award". The Commercial Appeal. Archived from the original on October 12, 2012.
  5. ^ a b Seabrook, John (August 27, 2007). "Sowing for Apocalypse". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Advisors". Global Crop Diversity Trust. Archived from the original on November 3, 2013. Retrieved November 1, 2013.
  7. ^ "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.
  8. ^ 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. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013.
  9. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts". (Press release). June 1, 2015 – via National Archives.
  10. ^ Dries, Bill (April 12, 2017). "Fowler Named Chairman Of Rhodes' Board of Trustees". The Daily News. Daily Digest. Vol. 132, no. 73. Retrieved May 8, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c "Crop diversity expert Dr. Cary Fowler appointed Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust". April 2005. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
  12. ^ "Svalbard Global Seed Vault". Retrieved March 30, 2021.
  13. ^ a b 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 November 22, 2010.
  14. ^ Geis, Michelle (October 18, 2013). "Global Crop Diversity Trust Announces New Executive Director". Global Crop Diversity Trust. Archived from the original on November 3, 2013. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
  15. ^ "Genesys".
  16. ^ "Annual report 2010" (PDF). Global Crop Diversity Trust. 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 14, 2011.
  17. ^ "Annual report 2011" (PDF). Global Crop Diversity Trust. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 10, 2013.
  18. ^ "Kew's Millennium Seed Bank joins campaign to protect global food supplies". Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. December 10, 2010. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013.
  19. ^ "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. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "SFU 2008 Honorary Degree Recipients". Simon Fraser University. 2008. Archived from the original on October 31, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  22. ^ "About Cary Fowler". Rhodes College. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  23. ^ "Cary Fowler". Oberlin College and Conservatory. March 27, 2018. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  24. ^ "The Heinz Awards: Cary Fowler". The Heinz Awards. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  25. ^ "William L. Brown Center Awards". Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  26. ^ "Awards & Fellows" (PDF). Crop Science Society of America. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  27. ^ "AVAM's 21st Gala". American Visionary Art Museum. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  28. ^ "Nautilus Award Winners - 2016-17 Season" (PDF). Nautilus Book Awards. 2017. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 30, 2017. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  29. ^ "Cary Fowler, Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalist in Citizen Leadership". Monticello. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
  30. ^ "A Visit to the Doomsday Vault". CBS News/60 Minutes. February 24, 2009. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  31. ^ Seabrook, John (August 27, 2007). "Sowing for Apocalypse: The quest for a global seed bank". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on April 3, 2013.
  32. ^ "Cary Fowler's seeds". Pop!Tech. 2007. Archived from the original on November 12, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  33. ^ "Seeds of Time". Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  34. ^ Jenkins, Mark (May 21, 2015). "In 'The Seeds Of Time,' One Man's Quest To Save Our Food Supply". National Public Radio. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  35. ^ "2014 Festival Official Film Selections". Portland EcoFilm Festival. 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2015.

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