For every one degree rise in temperature, 6 million tonnes of wheat will be lost in India, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN estimates. How do you feed a hungry, growing world population with climate change knocking at the door?
Scientists, policy makers and researchers from 23 countries across the world gathered here on Monday began to address how the biological diversity of life on earth — the vast genetic array of plants, animals and micro-organisms — could be preserved, adapted and shared to provide enough food in a warming planet.
“Time is running out, not only in the short term of finding international solutions to climate change containment but also to establish the wide range of measures necessary to secure the biological diversity which we are dependent upon for long term food security, ” Norwegian Minister of Agriculture and Food Lars Pedder Brekk said.
In the last century alone more than 75 per cent of all known food crops have disappeared and the world relies on just a few varieties of rice, potatoes, maize, wheat and other staples.
Unfortunately many of those lost or in decline are indigenous species that are the most nutritious, whether the green leafy vegetables of Africa or the millets of India, said Emile Frison, Director General, Biodiversity International. The double burden of hunger and obesity looms large – one in three people in the world are malnourished, he said.
We need to prepare ahead of time, he said, for the shifts in plant and crop species that will survive temperatures higher than the highest average temperatures of today.
Incentivising governments to do so will be no easy task. But, suggested Angela Cropper, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, developing an internationally recognised dollar value for our environmental resources and the “services” that the ecosystem provides, may prevent us from exploiting nature and serve as a means of protecting traditional cultures and farming methods. Crucial to the success of this was equal access to the benefits of genetic resources, whether new strains, or crop materials, she said.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is one of several frameworks established for this. As well as storing seeds for future generations for free, Norway, the Minister said, contributes 0.1 per cent of the value of seeds sold in the country to the Benefit Sharing Fund of this treaty.
More needs to be done, speakers said. “I’m still afraid of the population monster,” Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn of the World Food Prize Foundation said, quoting the father of the Green Revolution Norman Borlaug in one of his last addresses in 2005. Borlaug’s solution, Professor Swaminathan said, of combining science with the needs of local farmers, is now more significant than ever.