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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid