How can agrobiodiversity help to safeguard food security in the face of climate change?

How can agrobiodiversity help to safeguard food security in the face of climate change?


At the University of Birmingham our main
focus is looking at the impact of climate change and human population and
trying to make sure we can continue to have food security in the future. Well if we take the example of the potato famine in Ireland in the 1850s what happened there was you had a very narrow genetic base to the potatoes that people
were eating and a new race of late potato blight came in and infected the
crop and the crop itself had no resistance so it virtually wiped out the
crop for a couple of years this meant obviously no food and then
the famine that followed. So we’ve learned that what we need is to have more diversity in terms of the crops that we actually eat but also within
each of those species of crop we need genetic diversity so they can have more
general resistance to the new pests and diseases as they evolve. So the reason this area research is so important is because basically we have more human
beings on the planet today than the planet can sustain easily with that
number of human beings they’re going to eat more food but at the same time we
have the impact of climate change and climate change is predicted to decrease
global food output by 2 percent per decade so at the same time as we need
more food to feed human beings we’re actually going to be producing less so
my research is to make sure that we have the genetic tools the genetic material
to make crops able to produce more food even in a more adverse climate. The Svalbard gene bank effectively is a global vault to conserve genetic
diversities for the future. So imagine that you have some kind of nuclear war and a lot of the world is destroyed then there is one backup that is unlikely to be
impacted because it’s in the Arctic Circle remote from any major habitation
under the aegis of Norway and it’s unlikely that that site there will be
destroyed. The work I’ve been doing with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
is establishing this global network of in situ sites and making sure the
individual countries where they’re found are on board with conserving these species
within the country. In terms of genetic diversity we
need to have this systematic conservation of crop wild relatives
these wild species related to crops so you can take diverse genes from these
wild species into the crop or traditional forms of crops that aren’t
homozygous that don’t just have monocultures and move to a much more diverse
based system of farming that’s based on multiple crops lots of different
varieties which themselves have diversity to cope with the different
disease and pests as they arrive and the work that we’re doing in terms of
securing this genetic diversity resource will be a resource that all breeders can
use in the future to try and sustain food production into the 21st
century.

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