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Access to genetic resources in agriculture key to climate change adaptation




  • There’s one optimistic conclusion for agriculture under climate change: modelling the future suggests that for many places, the climate they face in 20 or 30 years is already present somewhere on Earth. Farmers and plant scientists can prepare for the future by using something like the Climate Analogues Tool to suggest places to look for crops and varieties that might to some extent be pre-adapted to predicted conditions. The next problem, of course, is to access that genetic diversity.

    The free movement of the genetic resources themselves and information about them is thus a crucial element in efforts to adapt agriculture to climate change.

    The new study, “Flows under stress: Availability of plant genetic resources in times of climate and policy change” describe how plant genetic resources move into and out of the CGIAR system. The study was carried out for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) by researchers at Bioversity International. It further reveals the invisible flows of material and identifies some of the blockages. CGIAR genebanks keep data on the countries accessions come from and the countries that request accessions, and those data are publically available through the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The study reveals that countries are hugely interdependent on one another, and that the multilateral access and benefit-sharing system of the Treaty is enhancing the availability of genetic resources. Some genebanks have sent material to more than 150 countries. And individual countries have received accessions from a similar number of other countries. But there is also troubling evidence that blockages to the flow are becoming more frequent and harder to get around.

    CGIAR centres are themselves adapting in response to climate change. Among these changes are closer direct interactions with farmers, national extension services, NGOs and aid agencies and closer cooperation with the private sector. The details of these broader operational strategies, along with the information on flows, can be found in a discussion paper based on the new study. The authors welcome comments and observations.

    Read more about Bioversity’s Seed for Needs project.

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