‘Protect diversity of crops to help food security’

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Protecting the diversity of the world’s crops is “fundamental” for ensuring food security in the face of climate change, experts have warned.

Governments, businesses, foundations and wealthy individuals are being urged to contribute to a £500m endowment fund which will pay to conserve different crop varieties in perpetuity.

The call is being made by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), an international organisation working to ensure conservation and availability of crop diversity around the world, supporting genebanks and efforts to collect crop varieties and their wild relatives.

The GCDT also manages the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores 825,000 crops as a back-up to other centres where crop varieties are stored and which can be vulnerable, such as the Aleppo genebank in Syria.

Marie Haga, executive director of the trust, said agriculture was “profoundly challenged” by climate change and that preserving the diversity of plants was “fundamental for food security”.

“Agriculture is challenged by climate change and we need to have plants adapt to a changing climate, whether it’s higher temperatures, more unpredictable weather, higher salinity, higher sea levels or new diseases as a result of climate change.

“We now need to breed or develop a new plant that, for example, is resilient to higher temperature, it’s this diversity that gives us that. Our job is to make sure we have diversity available for the farmers and breeders’ seeds to develop the new plants,” she said.

Scientists had warned that just a 1C (1.8F) temperature rise could cut yields of rice, a staple food crop for three billion people, by two per cent, she said.

But with the world currently on track for temperature rises of 3C (5.4F) to 4C (7.2F), it was not clear what the consequences for the crop would be, but it was going to be “dramatic”.

She said: “It’s a fact that we need to produce more food in the future. We need to feed another billion people in 10 years, that’s challenging in itself, but combine that need for more food and more nutritious food with the complexities of climate change, it’s pretty dramatic.”