More people means more mouths to feed. Given a projected increase in world population of 2.4 billion people to 9.6 billion people by 2050 and rising incomes continuing to change diets, we will need to produce more food than ever before. With little new land available for agriculture and rising sea levels reducing land availability - farmers will need to produce more without expanding the agricultural area.
Climate change will significantly alter what farmers can grow in terms of both crops and crop varieties, as heatwaves, cold snaps, droughts and floods significantly reduce crop yields. Extreme weather events simultaneously hitting the world’s major breadbasket regions could result in crop losses leading to food price spikes and have already resulted in civil unrest.
The United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that all crop production will be reduced by 20% by 2050 and carry on falling. Increasing numbers of storms and extreme weather events will wreak havoc – for example, flattening fields of short-stemmed wheat and leaving it vulnerable to mildew.
Professor Maxted and co-worker’s research addresses the intractable challenge of improving global, regional and national food security by planning and enacting more effective conservation of agrobiodiversity.
Agrobiodiversity is composed of crop wild relatives (CWR ― the wild species closely related to crops) and crop landraces (LR — the traditional varieties seed-saved by farmers). Both of which provides the genetic diversity upon which crop improvement is based.
It is well documented that enhanced agrobiodiversity conservation and improving availability to breeders results in improved yield and nutritional quality of new varieties. All of which contribute towards meeting current and future food security targets and improving global human well-being. Such a goal requires influencing environmental policy to ensure (a) systematic agrobiodiversity management, and (b) facilitated access to sustain utilization, generating new climate smart crop varieties adapted to the increasingly adverse growing environment, while still meeting the consumer’s demands.
Our research underpins the scientific foundation of agrobiodiversity and guides policy impacting global, European and UK food security. Our established evidence-based research also demonstrates novel pathways for crop improvement at all three geographic scales. An example of a novel crop improvement pathway is as followed:
More effective management of the agrobiodiversity resource = more agrobiodiversity availability for sustainable utilization = research led targeting of the resource-base by breeders and farmers = production of new ‘climate smart’ varieties and improved traditional farmer-based varieties = creation of improved varieties with sustainably better yield and quality = improved food security and human well-being.