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What is agriculture?

Agriculture is the cultivation and harvest of living things for use by humans. Plants, algae, fungi and animals are all farmed to make products including food, drink, medicine and fuel. Kew promotes a sustainable approach to agriculture where the natural world is valued, protected and integrated with farmed lands.
Photo Wild carrot (Daucus carota) in flower
Wild carrot (Daucus carota) in flower

Climate Change and agriculture

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing modern agriculture and predictions for increasing temperatures and changes in rainfall pose a big threat to global food security. The Turn Down the Heat reports recently published by the World Bank predict that even with less than two degree centigrade warming by the 2050s, crop production could be reduced by 10% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This video discusses why wild crop relatives are so important for our future food security, and how Kew and the Millennium Seed Bank are helping to safeguard them

In response to the global threat to agriculture from climate change, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has joined with the Global Crop Diversity Trust to launch the Crop Wild Relatives project. Through this work, Kew aims to safeguard the wild plant relatives of common food crops, such as wheat, barley and maize, so their genetic diversity can be conserved and used in the future. One use of the wild plant relatives of common crops involves breeding their useful traits, such as salt tolerance, heat tolerance and pest resistance, into commercial crops, enabling them to adapt and grow in future climates more readily.

A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters has estimated that improving crop yields and livestock farming using sustainable methods could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 12% for each calorie of food energy produced.

Preventing unsustainable agriculture

An example of unsustainable agriculture is the large scale destruction of the Brazilian Cerrado savannas of central Brazil. Sometimes known as the ‘Amazon’s forgotten cousin’, the Cerrado savannas are tremendously important for the ecosystem services they provide, and the diverse range of plants, fungi, animals, birds and other living organisms hosted there.

Alarmingly, these fragile habitats are being cleared wholesale for agriculture – particularly for soya production. Kew has joined with the WWF and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to raise awareness of these fragile habitats and the services they provide to people and agriculture. Read more about Kew's work in the Brazilian Cerrado on the Herbarium blog.

Finding new sources of food and fuel

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is also working to identify new crops for sustainable agriculture from under-used wild plant species. Currently, the team is searching for new oilseed crops by screening the seeds of wild plant species and checking for high oil content. The aim is to find new sources of food and biofuel that can be grown and harvested in a sustainable way.

Kew's work offers a concrete step towards strengthening global food security for our future.

Support Kew's work today and help us reduce the threats facing the world's food supply.