A new project is expanding the use of biodiversity held in genebanks to develop new climate-smart crop varieties for millions of small-scale farmers worldwide.

The dependency of many farmers on seasonal rains for cultivation has been responsible for food shortages over the years. It is also obvious that implementation of alternative growth methods that do not rely on natural rains, such as irrigation, are expensive, and their uptake is slow. The development of climate-resilient crop varieties is a viable option.

If farmers can have access to climate-resilient seeds, the global production of food can increase. The truth is that reliance on rain has been a major challenge to food production.

High temperatures, drought, irregular rainfall, flooding, and sea-level rise impact agriculture as climate change progresses. Scientists believe that by adding genetic diversity to new crop varieties, they can improve the resilience of the food supply. This will help overcome many challenges in combating malnutrition and hunger worldwide.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project aims to identify plant accessions in genebanks that contain gene variations responsible for characteristics like drought, heat, or salt tolerance. It will make them easier to use in breeding climate-resilient crop varieties over a five-year period. The initiative will allow breeders to use genebank materials more effectively. It will also enable them to efficiently generate climate-smart versions of major food crops such as maize, cassava, cowpea, sorghum, and rice.

The research is part of a larger strategy to boost the value and application of genebanks for climate resilience.

We have created a large and frequently accessed network of genebanks. Many agricultural accessions are conserved and made available to scientists and governments through this network. Our genebanks hold some of the world’s plant germplasm in trust for humanity. We are part of the team that ensures crop breeders across the globe have access to the fundamental building blocks of new varieties.

The project combines the use of cutting-edge technologies, GIS mapping, high-performance computing, and new plant breeding methods to identify and use high-value accessions for breeding varieties needed by farmers and consumers.