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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Crop wild relatives, gap analysis and climate change

This week I’ve been at a meeting in beautiful Bellagio, Italy with a diverse group of people from climate scientists through to breeders. We’re discussing the issue of crop wild relatives and climate change.  A number of issues are coming up.

The beatiful lakeside house at Rockefeller's Bellagio Center

The beautiful lakeside house at Rockefeller’s Bellagio Center

First, the multiple challenges of adapting agriculture to a future climate requires a fresh look at crop wild relatives (CWR) as a source of genes and traits that might help us adapt.  Interestingly, the focus appears not to be in specific traits, but overall diversity in CWR.  This seems to be a paradigm shift, presumably brought about by biotechnology and enhanced  molecular techniques.

Second, there seems to be a number of breakthroughs in both conventional breeding and biotechnology in enhancing the use of crop wild relatives in crop improvement.  Many of the barriers to use seem to be technically overcome, at least in some of the crops we have discussed (rice, cassava, peanuts).  It might be the breeders present in the meeting, but demand for CWR seems to be far greater.

Third, we continue to hear about the massive threat that CWR are facing in the wild, and the urgent need to complete collections.  Going back to my roots, I was fascinated to see some of the impacts of land-use change (in this particular case, urbanisation) in Brazil on the existence of  populations of wild peanuts.  Of course, climate change itself is also a threat in the medium-long term.

We presented our work on gap analysis of collections that we have been working on over the past 4 years.  We present a methodology for gap analysis, and show how we continue to have massive gaps in our ex situ collections of CWR of our major crops.  The presentation is below, and detailed information on gap analysis is available at our gap analysis website.

The stars seem to be aligned, and surely we need a massive effort to collect and complete collections in CWR on a global scale.

The meeting continues!

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