News / Africa

Plan to Protect Food Supply Against Global Warming Announced in Rome

Endangered wild plants are key to saving major food crops

Seeds from crops like these wild bananas from China can be bred to create new climate-adapting varieties.
Seeds from crops like these wild bananas from China can be bred to create new climate-adapting varieties.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

The largest effort ever to protect global food supplies against climate change was announced Friday in Rome.

One-fifth of the world's plants are threatened with extinction. It's Cary Fowler's mission to fight back. He's the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, a non-profit group based in Rome that works to preserve the world's agriculture heritage.  

He says the key to the survival of domesticated staples like wheat, rice and beans, are traits hidden in their wild relatives. "They are sort of the weedy ancestors of our major crops and they contain a tremendous amount of diversity. These are test plants and they are grown, very often in harsh environments. These are tough plants."

A hand-held satellite device helps a seed collector in Columbia pinpoint wild relatives of stable plants.
A hand-held satellite device helps a seed collector in Columbia pinpoint wild relatives of stable plants.

Using computer models to direct their search, teams will systematically collect and analyze wild varieties of 23 essential food crops, including rice, beans, potatoes, barley, lentils and chickpeas. The Global Crop Diversity Trust is working in partnership with national research institutes, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

Fowler says researchers will cross-breed domesticated varieties with their wild relatives to produce hardy farm-ready plants that can adapt to new, harsher and more demanding conditions.

"They find out more about the qualities of the seed. They fix that information into databases and make it publicly available on the Internet and then plant breeders and in some cases sophisticated farmers can come along and say, 'Ah-ha! We really need this particular trait for our program to improve or to breed a particular crop for a particular area and climate.'" 

Collecting wild plants in Mali.
Collecting wild plants in Mali.

Most scientists agree that the planet is warming. In the face of more frequent and more severe floods, droughts and heavy rainfall that can devastate crops, forecasts are grim.  Irrigated wheat yields worldwide are predicted to decline by nearly one-third by 2080. Maize, a vital crop in South Africa, could drop up to 30 percent within just 20 years.

Fowler says farmers will have to take steps to adapt to a warmer climate much sooner than that.

"If the same corn or maize varieties that are in the field today in southern Africa are still in the field 20 years from now, people there will be suffering a 25 to 30 percent decrease in production because of just the amount of climate change that we can expect in the next 20 years. Imagine what it will be like 50 years from now when virtually all of the growing seasons will be hotter than anything ever experienced in the history of agriculture." 

Local people in Namibia help in the search for plant diversity. Local names and plant uses can often be obtained from people living in the area.
Local people in Namibia help in the search for plant diversity. Local names and plant uses can often be obtained from people living in the area.

Fowler expects to complete the cross-breeding experiments in 10 years, the typical time it takes to bring a new plant variety into production.

"This is going to infuse plant breeding programs for most of our major crops with an immense amount of diversity. And what that means is a huge number of new options for farmers and plant breeders to faithfully, sustainably, naturally help their crops be resistant to pest and diseases, to overcome drought and to tackle heat stress. And the cost benefit is simply off the charts."

The Global Crop Diversity Trust project was kicked off with a $50 million grant from Norway. That country also harbors the world's largest repository for seed conservation, a secure vault built into a mountain near the North Pole.

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs