Major global analysis offers hope for saving the wild side of staple food crops
Global efforts to adapt staple foods like rice, wheat and potato to climate change were given a major boost today as new research shows the whereabouts of their wild cousins which could help us develop new varieties.
This new analysis assesses 29 of the world’s most important food crops and reveals severe threats to just over half of their wild relatives, as they are not adequately saved in genebanks and not available to researchers and plant breeders for crop improvement.
The world's poorest will be hit first and hardest
Adapting agriculture to climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time.Dr Ruth Eastwood, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank
Climate change is predicted to cause the substantial decline of agricultural production in the coming decades, and together with rising food prices, this will hit the poorest first and hardest. This global analysis forms part of a larger partnership to collect and conserve the wild relatives of the world’s major food crops.
The initiative, led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) in partnership with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and in collaboration with national and international agricultural research institutes, is the largest ever global effort to conserve crop wild relatives. These wild plants contain essential traits that could be bred into crops to make them more hardy and versatile in the face of dramatically different climates expected in the coming years. The Norwegian government is providing funding for this ten-year initiative. Find out more about how Kew is helping to strengthen food security.
Assessing the global conservation gaps for crop wild relatives
The three-year study, carried out by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and managed by the Crop Trust in partnership with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, is the first of its kind to assess, on a global scale, the conservation gaps for crop wild relatives across the most significant crop gene pools. The University of Birmingham researched and developed a comprehensive inventory of these wild crop cousins, providing a foundation for the gap analysis. To find out more about the results of the gap analysis visit http://www.cwrdiversity.org/
We want to ensure access to the wild genes that could boost the crops relied on by some of the world’s poorest people. These wild genes have the potential to increase yields, pest resistance and tolerance to extreme temperatures.Jane Toll, Global Crop Diversity Trust
Facts and figures
- Gap analysis results show that 54% of the crop wild relatives on the target list are high priority for collection as they have not been collected before or existing collections do not adequately represent their full geographic distribution
- The top five crops most at risk are eggplant, potato, apple, sunflower and carrot, as a large number of their crop wild relatives are high priority species for collection
- Important cereal crops in much of Africa, including sorghum and finger millet, are also at high risk and the collection of their wild relatives is being prioritised
Where in the world are wild relatives most at risk?
Countries with the richest number of priority crop wild relatives include: Australia, Bolivia, China, Cyprus, Ecuador, Ethiopia, India, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Peru, Portugal, South Africa, Turkey and USA. Although these countries are mostly located in the traditionally recognised centres of high wild crop diversity, notable exceptions are USA, Australia and the European countries.
This highlights the important role that the wild plant resources in industrialised countries have to contribute to food security in developing nations. It is expected that there will be collecting in Italy and Portugal this summer, carried out by scientists from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and local partners