Seed World

Genetic Diversity Key in Coping with Climate Change

Genetic resources have a critical role to play in feeding the world — especially as climate change advances faster than expected — and much more needs to be done to study, preserve and use the biological diversity that underpins world food production, according to a new book released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before,” says Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general. “Preventing further losses of agricultural genetic resources and diverting more attention to studying them and their potential will boost humankind’s ability to adapt to climate change.”
Crops, livestock, forest trees and aquatic organisms capable of surviving and producing in a changing climate will be needed.
The ability of plants and animals raised by farmers to withstand volatile conditions and adapt when the environment changes is a direct result of their genetic diversity, but stronger efforts to study and use that diversity as a coping mechanism — and policies to support that — are required, according to the book’s authors.
The FAO reports that such an adaptive approach will require updating the goals of agricultural breeding programs — and in some cases introducing varieties, breeds and species that have not been previously raised. Improvements to field-based and off-site conservation programs for domesticated species, their wild relatives and other wild genetic resources important for food and agriculture — along with policies that promote their sustainable use — are urgently needed, according to FAO.
“In particular, improving knowledge, conservation and use of crop wild relatives is important — they are likely to have genetic traits that can be used to develop well-adapted crops for use in climate change-affected food systems,” the authors note.
FAO stresses that boosting conservation of genetic diversity on farms and in fields is as critical as maintaining gene banks.