Rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, erratic weather patterns and the prevalence of pests and diseases resulting from climate change threaten agricultural productivity and therefore undermine global food security. This, coupled with the pressures of human population increase, will mean that the demand for food will be greater than ever.
Genetic diversity is the key to resilience against such threats and the best source of genetic variation can be found in the wild relatives of crop species.
The Millennium Seed Bank in collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust is engaged in a project called ‘Adapting agriculture to climate change’. The main objective of this project is to support countries to collect, protect and prepare the wild relatives of the world’s most important food crops, in a form that plant breeders can readily use to produce varieties adapted to future climatic conditions, that farmers in the developing world will soon be encountering.
The project focuses on the wild relatives of 29 crops which are of major importance to food security, covered by Annex 1 of the International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The crops are African rice, alfalfa, apple, aubergine, bambara groundnut, banana, barley, bread wheat, butter bean, carrot, chickpea, common bean, cowpea, faba bean, finger millet, grasspea, lentil, oat, pea, pearl millet, pigeon pea, plantain, potato, rice, rye, sorghum, sunflower, sweet potato and vetch.
There is, quite simply, no more important step we can take to prepare for climate change than to ensure that the crops that feed humanity are adapted to deal with the current and future challenges of climate change.