Knowledge of agricultural genetic resources needs to grow faster because of their critical importance in feeding the world in the context of climate change. This is one of the key conclusions of the recent publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The book, titled "Coping with Climate Change: The Roles of Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture", points out the urgent need for much more decisive efforts aimed at studying, preserving and utilizing the biological diversity as a way to cope with the climate change consequences for the global food production.
"Time is not on our side", the authors of the publication warn. "In the coming decades, millions of people whose livelihoods and food security depend on farming, aquaculture, fishing, forestry and livestock keeping are likely to face unprecedented climatic conditions." These people are going to need crop plants and farm animals which are able to give enough food in the situation of the changing and increasingly unpredictable climate.
"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", said FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo. "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", she added.
The document underlines the necessity to broaden our knowledge of genetic resources in agriculture and food production as well as their characteristics such as resistance to drought or disease. A great number of plant crop varieties and livestock breeds adapted to local conditions - as well as trees, fish, insects and micro-organisms - are still poorly documented and may be lost before their potential roles in climate change adaptation are recognized. Often undervalued and still very much understudied are especially millions of micro-organisms living in the soil. Research shows that they play a vital role in, among other thing, protecting plants from pests, drought, cold and salinity.
"We need to strengthen the role of genetic resources and help farmers, fishers and foresters cope with climate change", stated Linda Collette, lead editor of the book and Secretary of FAO's Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Among the essential actions advocated by the FAO's publication are: expanding conservation programmes for domesticated species, their wild relatives and other genetic resources important for food and agriculture as well as implementing policies that promote their sustainable use; avoiding practices that destroy biodiversity or undermine the health of ecosystems (e.g. the use of pesticides that impact pollinators); creating and maintaining gene banks; intensifying and expanding the exchange and sharing of agricultural genetic resources.
One of the FAO's propositions for countries is the adoption of guidelines for the recognition of the critical role of biodiversity in assuring food security and the integration of genetic resources into climate change adaptation plans. The draft of the guidelines contains a range of recommendations aimed at helping countries implement strategies and policies regarding the study, preservation and use of genetic resources in order to better adapt to the consequences of the advancing climate change.
FAO's publication on the role of genetic resources in coping with climate change is available here (click to download).
Photo credit: F. de la Cruz / Bioversity International (Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)