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October 5, 2021

by Amélie Bottollier-Depois

From a bowl of rice to a cup of coffee, experts say the foods we take for granted could become much scarcer if we don’t make them climate change resistant.

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For more than 10,000 years, humans have used selective breeding to adapt fruits and vegetables to specific growing conditions that are changing at an alarming rate today.

And the same breeding that made plants profitable, she has made vulnerable to rising temperatures, drought, heavy rainfall, new pests or insect pests.

“When you choose the best traits (like higher yields), you lose certain types of genes,” Benjamin Kilian, project leader for the Crop Wild Relatives Project at Crop Trust, told AFP.

“We have lost genetic diversity during domestication history … so the potential of elite cultures to further adapt to the future – to climate change and other challenges – is limited.”

The answer, say scientists, could be consist of reintroducing this genetic diversity by going back to the wild ancestors of domesticated plants.

According to a study published in May, global warming risks putting almost a third of agricultural production outside the ideal climate for the Cultivation will be relocated.

The International Potato Center predicts a 32 percent decline in potato and sweet potato harvests by 2060 due to climate change, while some estimates say coffee farmers will lose half of the adapted land before 2050.

Rice, the world’s most important staple food, is making a massive contribution to global warming by e s releases methane during cultivation. It is also threatened by rising seas, which could bring too much salt into the water that floods rice fields.

Older forms of these plants may have had resistance to salt water or high temperatures encoded in their genes – and to get them back, experts are looking for their ancestors in the wild.

“We need to use as much biodiversity as possible. .. because it reduces risks and offers options, “says agriculture expert Marleni Ramirez of Biodiversity International.

One potential resource are gene banks such as the Kew Millennium Seed Bank with almost 40,000 wild plant species.

Instead, it is up to experienced botanists to undertake a time-consuming search of the wild, the success of which can sometimes depend on luck.

Between 2013 and 2018, the Global Crop Diversity Trust collected more than 4,600 samples from 371 wild cousins ​​of 28 priority crops, including wheat, rice , Sweet potatoes, bananas and apples.

Together with his colleagues, he discovered a wild type of coffee in Sierra Leone that is more resistant to the Climate change is considered the most common arabica.

“If we had gone to Sierra Leone in 10 years it would probably have become extinct,” says Davis.

“Of 124 types of coffee, 60 percent are critically endangered, including those that we could use to grow new, resilient coffees. “

In a survey in four Central American countries, one in four analyzed plants was threatened with extinction, including 70 wild species associated with important crops such as corn and pumpkin. < Wild plants may not be adapted to large-scale agriculture, and new varieties may take years or even decades to create – perhaps too long to provide an answer to an impending food crisis.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, while the planet is home to around 50,000 edible plants, only three of them – rice, corn and wheat – provide 60 percent of the world’s food intake.

Their disappearance could lead to it that billions of people are wondering what to eat and millions of farmers are looking for a new way to survive.

© 2021 AFP

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