Food security in the face of climate change is one of “the most daunting challenges facing humankind,” according to a UN report released this week.
The paper, published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), suggests that anywhere between 16 and 22 percent of wild crops could go extinct within the next 50 years. Some of the crops at risk of disappearing include 61 percent of peanut species, 12 percent of potato species and 8 percent of cowpea species.
Climate change is a threat to genetic diversity in warmer regions where agricultural resources, especially rarer species, have difficulty adapting to temperamental weather conditions. Crops in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, India and northern Australia will face the most difficulties, though as temperatures fluctuate, Canada, the United States and Europe can expect to face similar challenges in the near future.
In Ethiopia, after the 1984 famine ravaged the country’s northern region, local farmers and scientists began working together to tackle food insecurity by promoting a widespread network of seed banks, one of the conservation processes recommended by the FAO. According to the paper, seeds and genetic material from crops under threat should be kept in labs whenever they are deemed unsafe in the wild. Seeds are kept in temperature-controlled storage facilities, and farmers can later plant a more genetically diverse variety of seeds beyond one season without worrying about crop failure. There are currently 18 seed banks throughout Ethiopia’s most populous areas.
Food systems need to become more resilient or else food production will not be able to keep up with the consumption needs of a growing global population.
“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,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.