Climate may overwhelm farmers

Rapid global temperature rises may overwhelm farmers’ efforts to produce crops, say experts who want funds to breed new varieties and to freeze heat-resistant strains bred in past centuries, Reuters reported. Farmers can adapt to the rises by altering growing times or using new crop varieties, but extra help will be needed, according to a study published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

By 2050, African growing seasons for such staple foods as maize, millet and sorghum will be hotter in nine out of 10 years, says the study by authors from Stanford University and the Global Crop Diversity Trust. “For a majority of Africa’s farmers, warming will rapidly take climate not only beyond the range of their personal experience but also beyond the experience of other farmers within their country,” it said.

The development of more-resistant crops involves a decade or more to breed or design new varieties, screen them and put them into farmers’ hands. One initiative is the 2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. To speed the sharing of different crop strains, its 121 signatories have agreed to give up patent claims on their native food crops. But the treaty will have to overcome a lack of funding and poor seed banks in African countries with heat- and drought-resistant crop varieties.

If seed banks were improved, many nations could switch to varieties already grown in hotter parts of Africa. But, the Stanford study found, several nations in the Sahel will have to change food crops entirely – for example, for maize to millet.

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