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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.