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Wild plants offer a lifeline as staple crops fail to cope with climate change

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Wild plants offer a lifeline as staple crops fail to cope with climate change

Wild plants offer a lifeline as staple crops fail to cope with climate change

Scientists say many of the wild cousins of the crops that feed the world may offer us a lifeline as the world grapples with the combined challenges of climate change and sustainably feeding an increasing population.

Adam Reed reports.

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Wild plants offer a lifeline as staple crops fail to cope with climate change

The combination of climate change and an increasing population throws up challenges when it comes to sustainably feeding the world.

But scientists say the solution may lie in the wild relatives of the farmed crops we currently rely on.

They're the hardier cousins that have evolved to survive harsh conditions, such as low rainfall, flooding, temperature extremes and poor soils.

The outgoing executive director of the Crop Trust, Marie Haga.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) MARIE HAGA, THE CROP TRUST SAYING: "If a wild wheat plant has survived on top of a mountain top for 10,000 years we are awfully eager to find it, and why?

Well, because if it's survived up there on the mountain top for 10,000 years it's likely that it doesn't need much water and one of the traits that we now need to breed for is plants that produce food with less water." A report published on Tuesday (December 3) details the results of a major global effort to prepare agricultural crops for climate change.

Teams of collectors spent nearly 3,000 days in often remote and even dangerous locations collecting the seeds of 5,000 relatives of the crops that we eat.... offering a largely untapped source of genetic diversity and the potential to secure the future of our food sources.

But project manager Chris Cockel says seed collecting is not an easy process.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) CHRIS COCKEL, MILLENNIUM SEED BANK, ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS KEW SAYING: "You have to go out at the right time with all the right equipment and you need to get there when the plants are dispersing their seed at the natural time and our partners are going out into many cases these inhospitable areas, into jungles if you want to use that term, where they might be faced with the threat of tigers in Nepal for example, or the threat of security issues in Lebanon or in Pakistan for example.

And in many cases those areas are off limits even to our partners in the countries." According to a United Nations report, food supplies are under 'severe threat', because of the number of animal and plant species fast disappearing as the world grapples with how to feed a growing population.

Although about 6,000 plant species can be used for food, less than 200 varieties are widely eaten, and only nine make up most of the world's total crop production, leaving them susceptible to shocks like pests or disease, droughts and other extreme weather events due to climate change.



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