Forecasts for declines in the yields of staple crops show that climate change will place unprecedented pressures on our ability to grow the food we require, and these impacts will be particularly severe in developing countries. All IPCC scenarios show warming over the next several decades will take place irrespective of any action taken today. The same models show conditions for agriculture will be dramatically different from those which dominate today. Adapting agriculture to these future conditions is therefore essential.
The need for new crop varieties that can withstand these challenges is now widely recognized and is frequently cited in climate change discussions. These are essential not only to reduce hunger but also to strengthen global food security in the medium- and long term. Therefore the development of crop varieties that can cope with heat, drought, flood and other extremes may well be the single most important step we can take to adapt to climate change. However breeding new varieties takes time, often about 10 years to produce a new variety, meaning the dramatically different conditions predicted for 2030 are a mere two crop breeding cycles away. Therefore:
- this is an urgent need requiring action now, given both the serious threat to food security and the time required to breed new crop varieties;
- our ability to breed these new varieties cannot be taken for granted, as it is undermined by the loss of the biological basis of our food supply – the genetic diversity of crops.
The Trust’s work not only funds collections which are of vital importance to developing countries, but is also prioritising crops which are of particular importance to the poor and routinely ignored by mainstream investments in developed countries. It is also funding a number of activities to make these collections even more useful. For example, screening genebank collections for the traits required in adapting to climate change will provide breeding programmes with a headstart in the race to breed climate ready crops. The Trust is already funding this type of evaluation work in Asia, Africa and South America.