It is estimated that climate change will reduce agricultural production by 2% every decade while demand will increase by 14% every decade until 2050. Yields of major crops will face an average decline of 8% for Africa and South Asia by 2050 (IPCC, 2014).
One of the main challenges that farmers have in the context of climate change is its unpredictability. Farmers can no longer rely on the timing of seasons and availability of rainfall to see them through the year.
Using agricultural biodiversity in the fight against climate change is about building climate smart systems - responding to variety with variety. Diversity can help farmers mitigate, adapt and ensure food and nutrition security, by providing them with more options to manage climatic risks and strengthen the resilience of their farms and surrounding landscapes.
To do this, we carry out research at the genetic, species and landscape level.
Different crop varieties can be used to deal with climate-induced stress and unpredictability. For example, wheat is very sensitive to heat when it flowers, and if the flowers burn, no grains are produced. Planting different varieties of wheat with different flowering times can reduce the risk of a farmer losing his or her crop in the case of a sudden heat spike.
Different crops and livestock respond differently to environmental stresses such as drought, frost and salinization. Having different species on farm prevents farmers from losing everything, and some species will cope better with unpredictable shocks than others.
Diverse sources of food and smarter seasonal planting help communities cope with 'hungry' seasons and a landscape with many different land uses can help communities and their ecosystems deal with environmental shocks, for example, having trees in the landscape can help reduce soil erosion during storms.
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in collaboration with Bioversity International and The Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) has published an Atlas titled ‘Suitability of key Central American agroforestry species under future climates’.
The Atlas presents current and future suitability maps for 54 species that are commonly used as shade in agroforestry systems in Central America. "It is important to know where a species remains suitable under future climatic conditions to be able to give practical advice to farmers and tree growers” said Kauê de Sousa of Bioversity International who is the main author of the study.
Scientists are testing banana varieties held in the International Musa Germplasm Transit Centre, Belgium, to see how each kind will fare in the African highlands climate. This type of climate is characterised by 'cold' nights and too little rain for the conventional banana plant – a climate recreated in a growth container with the help of Urban Crop Solutions.
When the study is concluded, the researchers want to be able to advise African farmers about which types of bananas would be best suited for their region.
Bioversity's 'Seeds for Needs' initiative works with farmers to research how agricultural biodiversity can help minimize the risks associated with climate change. The concept is simple – if farmers have more information and access to diversity, they are more likely and able to choose the best options and cope with unpredictable weather.
Bioversity International and partners spent over a year gathering data and consulting with more than 100 regional stakeholders to develop an action plan to strengthen the role of plant genetic resources in adapting to climate change in Mesoamerica. The result, a 10-year roadmap known as 'SAPM – Strategic action plan to strengthen conservation and use of Mesoamerican plant genetic resources in adapting agriculture to climate change'.