Adapting agriculture to climate change

Collecting and protecting the wild relatives of the world’s most important food crops to safeguard our future food security in a changing climate.

Small wild banana cut length ways showing seeds

Climate change and agriculture

Adapting agriculture to climate change is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. Rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, erratic weather patterns and the prevalence of pests and diseases resulting from climate change threaten agricultural productivity and therefore undermine global food security. This, coupled with the pressures of human population increase, will mean that the demand for food will be greater than ever.

Since the dawn of agriculture, over 10,000 years ago, humans have been selectively breeding plants based on characteristics such as taste, high yield, resistance to disease, growing conditions and easy harvesting. Even though there are around 7,000 species of food crops globally, just 12 of these account for approximately 80% of global consumption. While the domestication of plants has allowed human population growth, the subsequent loss of genetic diversity has left the crops vulnerable to pests, diseases and changing environmental conditions. Genetic diversity is the key to resilience against such threats and the best source of genetic variation can be found in the wild relatives of crop species.

Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change Project                          

The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) in collaboration with the Crop Trust is engaged in a project called ‘Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change’. The main objective is to collect, protect and prepare the wild relatives of the world’s most important food crops, in a form that plant breeders can readily use to produce varieties adapted to the future climatic conditions that farmers in the developing world will soon be encountering.

The project focuses on the wild relatives of 29 crops which are of major importance to food security, covered by Annex 1 of the International Treaty of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The crops are African rice, alfalfa, apple, aubergine, bambara groundnut, banana, barley, bread wheat, butter bean, carrot, chickpea, common bean, cowpea, faba bean, finger millet, grasspea, lentil, oat, pea, pearl millet, pigeon pea, plantain, potato, rice, rye, sorghum, sunflower, sweet potato and vetch.

Kew’s role

Kew staff have been involved in the collection of crop wild relative (CWR) occurrence data, using these alongside a global gap analysis to prioritise collections. The MSB is leading on the Collecting and Conservation area of the project.  This includes supporting partners through the production of National CWR Collecting Guides, providing training and holding backup collections of CWR at the MSB. Once new CWR collections arrive at the MSB they are processed, tested and banked. This new material will also be distributed to pre-breeders and available for researchers. We also work on the communications aspect of the project.            


The project aims to:

  • Identify those crop wild relatives that are missing from existing collections, are most likely to contain diversity of value to adapting agriculture to climate change, and are most endangered
  • Collect them from the wild
  • Conserve them in genebanks
  • Prepare these and others already in collections (‘pre-breeding’) for use in breeding crops for new climates
  • Make the resulting information widely available




  • Armenian Botanical Society


  • Institute of Genetic Resources, Academy of Sciences


  • The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMPRAPA)


  • Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, (INIA)


  • Cyprus Agricultural Research Institute (Program completed)

Costa Rica

  • The University of Costa Rica


  • Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, (INIA)


  • Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute (EBI)


  • Institute of Botany
  • National Botanical Garden of Georgia


  • Plant Genetic Resources Research Institute (PGRRI)


  • La Fundacion Para La Innovacion Tecnologica, Agropecuaria Y Forestal (Fundit)


  • University of Pavia (Program completed)


  • Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation


  • Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute


  • Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute


  • Nepal Agricultural Research Council


  • National Centre for Genetic Resources and Biotechnology


  • The Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC)


  • Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, (INIA)


  • Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência (Program completed)


  • Agricultural Research Corporation


  • Plant Genetic Resources Centre


  • Plant Genetic Resources Institute

For more information on project partners see our project website.

Castañeda-Álvarez, N.P., Khoury, C.K., Achicanoy, H.A., Bernau, V., Dempewolf, H., Eastwood, R.J., Guarino, L., Harker, R.H., Jarvis, A., Maxted, N., Müller, J.V., Ramirez-Villegas, J., Sosa, C.C., Struik, P.C., Vincent, H. & Toll, J. (2016)

Global conservation priorities for crop wild relatives

Nature Plants 2: 16022

Dempewolf, H., Eastwood, R.J., Guarino, L., Khoury, C.K., Müller, J.V. & Toll, J. (2014)

Adapting agriculture to climate change: A global 10 year project to collect and conserve crop wild relatives.

Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 38: 369-377.

Vincent, H., Wiersema, J., Kell, S., Fielder, H., Dobbie, S., Castañeda-Álvarez, N. P., Guarino, L., Eastwood, R., Leόn, B. & Maxted, N. (2013) 

A prioritised crop wild relative inventory to help underpin global food security.

Biological Conservation 167: 265-275