By Jeremy Cherfas
While some scientists are working hard to breed new crop varieties better adapted to the predicted impacts of climate change, others are exploring adaptation options already present in genebanks and in farmers’ fields.
Carlo Fadda, a senior scientist at Bioversity International, is managing an ongoing project called Seeds for Needs in Ethiopia. The project is testing innovative methods to screen genebank collections and farmers fields for diversity that has the desired adaptive traits.
“The challenge,” Fadda says, “is to identify these ‘pre-adapted’ varieties and disseminate them in ways that can satisfy the needs of farmers.”
In Ethiopia, the project used modern GIS technologies to look in local genebanks for samples that could help women farmers to adapt their crops to climate change. More than 12,500 accessions of durum wheat and barley were screened to find the most promising 100 varieties of each crop to be tested on-farm. Women farmers sowed the varieties at three sites, chosen to represent possible future climates, and at harvest time, working alongside extension workers and local genebank managers, evaluated them. The women’s evaluation was a major factor in selecting the varieties now being planted for a second season of assessment, because they might prefer some traits that are not important to others. Among the trial varieties, Fadda hopes, will be some that could meet the women’s needs at the same time as being able to cope with changing climates.