Global climate change is a major threat to food security that is already affecting crop yields through increasing temperatures, shifts in precipitation, greater variability and more extreme weather events like drought, flooding and windstorms. Crops currently under production may become maladapted to emerging weather conditions and further stressed by soil degradation and pest and disease outbreaks linked to the shifting conditions. Yield declines of the major staple crops are projected in many parts of the world but especially for tropical and subtropical regions, where existing hunger will be strongly exacerbated.
Greater use of stress tolerant crops and diversification of production are recognized as critical strategies to build resilience and adapt agricultural production to climate change. In an increasingly unpredictable climate, growing a diversity of crop species and varieties, including some that are stress-tolerant, ensures that a harvest will be reaped even in bad years. Strengthening on-farm conservation is also recognized as a fundamental adaptation strategy to ensure the availability of crops with adaptive traits, support the diversification of production systems, and maintain the dynamic processes of farmer seed selection and exchange that facilitate crop adaptation to shifts in the local environment.
Many neglected and underutilized species are tolerant of stressful and marginal growing conditions so they could be central in diversification strategies or in replacing crops that fail under climate change conditions. Smallholder farmers are often already making use of these species in their risk management strategies, growing an assortment of crops and varieties including both hardy traditional crops and more commercial crops in their portfolios. Under extreme climatic stress, wild and semi-domesticated neglected and underutilized species become important “famine foods” which are cultivated and gathered for fruits, roots, and vegetables. The fact that neglected and underutilized species are within reach of the poor means they could provide an accessible means of adaptation. However, research attention is required to leverage and enhance the strategic contribution of these species to climate change adaptation.
We are investigating the role of neglected and underutilized species in climate change adaptation and working to strengthen their on-farm conservation to contribute to more diverse and resilient production systems. Our research activities on this topic include:
These activities have been carried out through Phase III and IV of the IFAD-NUS project and supported by the CGIAR Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
Climate change adaptation is a key research area for Bioversity International that is not only focused on neglected and underutilized species. Visit the Bioversity International webpage for full information on their research on this topic.