Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: The Role of Crop Wild Relatives

Monday, September 6, 2010
12:00 AM - 12:00 AM
Rockefeller Conference Center Bellagio, Italy

This meeting is the third in a series of consultations between agricultural scientists (in particular those interested in the conservation and use of crop diversity in plant improvement) and climate scientists on how to adapt agriculture to climate change. The first meeting, also held at Bellagio (3-7 September 2007), looked at the Conservation and Use of Global Crop Genetic Resources in the Face of Climate Change. It identified three major challenges facing the adaptation process: collecting crop diversity before it disappears, using it to breed better adapted crops, and informing key players of the increased need for the conservation and effective use of crop genetic resources in the face of climate change.

The second meeting, held at Stanford University on 16-18 June 2009, looked more specifically at breeding, and in particular at Climate Extremes and Crop Adaptation. Among other things, it recommended that efforts to develop heat tolerant varieties of the major cereals be intensified, and that greater investments be made in genotyping and phenotyping the variation already held in genebanks, and in collecting remaining diversity.

This third meeting in the series, and second at Bellagio, focused on a specific area of intersection between the ground covered by the previous consultations: the role of plants that are closely related to crops but are not themselves cultivated (crop wild relatives, or CWRs for short) in breeding varieties better adapted to future climates. The following questions were asked:

1) What is the evidence for the value of wild relatives in breeding for tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses in general, and heat and drought tolerance in particular? Are there specific crops where we can anticipate that the collecting and or use of crop wild relatives will be of particular importance in the context of climate change?

2) What are the most useful techniques for identifying gaps in collections of crop wild relatives, what are the areas and populations most threatened by climate change, and areas and populations most likely to yield materials with traits of interest to breeders (especially drought and heat resistance)? And what R&D is needed to improve these techniques or create new, more effective ones?

3) In what form would breeders ideally want genebanks to provide them with crop wild relatives material? What specific changes in the current way genebanks and breeders do business and interact will be necessary to make this happen? What options exist to sustainably finance efforts to collect, conserve and use crop wild relatives, and to expand pre-breeding efforts?

Three specific goals for the proposed meeting. The first is to inform a strategic plan being developed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Millennium Genebank, Bioversity International and the CGIAR Centres to ensure the ex situ conservation of priority crop wild relatives and their long-term availability and use in climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. The second will be broader set of policy briefs for the crop development community, and the third will be a series of publications that summarize the work leading up to and resulting from the meeting.