The search for wild varieties of priority crops ranging from rice and wheat to sweet potato, millet, aubergine and apples is being led by the Crop Trust and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London.
The “crop wild relatives” carry traits not found in the domestic crops, but which can be used to breed more resilient plants to ensure food security.
Marie Haga, executive director of Crop Trust, said: “These wild relatives can have traits that can help us to solve problems, in adapting plants to whatever it is, the need for plants to use less water, higher nutritional value or that they can stand higher salinity.”
The search was urgent, Ms Haga said, adding that agriculture is facing probably its biggest challenge ever due to population growth and climate change.
She said: “We also know that many people will eat more meat, which will put more pressure on plant production, so it’s a growing population but also a more demanding population. Then of course we have climate change.”
Scientists are collecting wild varieties in countries such as Azerbaijan, Brazil and Vietnam where seeds will be stored in gene banks and sent out to prepare genetic material for use in breeding.
They will also be backed up at Crop Trust’s Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, in the Arctic in Norway.