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Researchers seek climate change-proof food crops

Drought and desertification in parts of Africa are seen as a direct consequence of man-made climate change

© Martine Perret/UN Photo/afrol News
afrol News, 9 July
- As the climate change already is affecting agricultural output in large parts of Africa, there is now a need to develop new food crops that can adapt to the new conditions. Research funds are slowly being released.

Large tracts of Africa are especially hard hit by the ongoing climate change. In particular in Southern Africa, climate researcher claim to have proven that permanently drier conditions are due to global climate gas emissions. Many further claim this is causing extra droughts in East Africa and some even fear a drier Sahel and Maghreb.

As a changing climate and changing conditions for agriculture in Africa now seem to be unstoppable processes, international research focus is finally, but slowly, moving towards finding solutions that adapt to the established facts.

One of the initiatives, launched yesterday by the ITPGRFA sub-agency of FAO, is to promote research that can develop food crops able to resist these tougher climatic conditions. ITPGRFA, an agency dedicated to food and agricultural plant genetics, released US$ 10 million in a call for project proposals.

"This call will help to ensure sustainable food security and to assist farmers to stay ahead of the climate change curve," the agency said in a statement to afrol News. Grant applications could be made until 8 September.

The fresh funds were to focus on "high impact projects supporting small scale farmers in developing countries" by developing "varieties of the 64 most important food crops and forages."

This is the second time ITPGRFA funds scientific projects to develop climate change resistant food crops. The first call was issued at the end of 2008 and has distributed grants to 11 live projects, which are already harvesting their first results in countries like Morocco, Kenya and Egypt.

"With the global population expected to peak at 9 billion by 2050, securing food crop diversity is essential for achieving food security, alleviating poverty and adapting to a changing climate," alerts ITPGRFA's Shakeel Bhatti.

Africa is not the only region whose agriculture is threatened by climate change. International food production at large, especially in developing countries, could be harmed. But Africa has a high priority when it comes to develop new crops.

The agency's strategic action plan to a large degree focuses on agro-ecological zones such as "the marginal dry lands of the sub-Saharan Africa region, Southern Africa, small island developing states, tropical mountain areas, or Asian flood plains and coastal sea line areas," explains Dr Shivaji Pandey, director of the Plant Protection and Production Division of FAO.

The new efforts to develop climate change-proof food crops for Africa comes as African governments and donors are discovering the need for development projects taking climate change into account. These include environmental projects such as tree planting, infrastructure securing project and new urban planning that avoid new weather hazards.

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