The race against time to breed a wheat to survive the climate crisis

Author

Nina Lakhani

Source(s)
Guardian, the (UK)

Scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Sonora are focused on developing wheat varieties which can better cope with drought, rising temperatures and excessive rainfall. In other words, wheat that can thrive under the extreme and unpredictable weather conditions farmers are experiencing globally due to the rapidly warming planet.

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Uniformity, standardisation, and fossil fuel-driven technologies became the gold standard and Borlaug was awarded the Nobel peace prize as malnutrition declined. But the loss of diversity in crops, ecosystems and traditional sustainable practices came at a huge environmental and human cost. And now the climate crisis is making us pay.

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The end goal is to create varieties that can adapt to and thrive in unpredictable conditions without expensive and ecologically damaging fungicides that commercial seeds are designed to require. It’s a painstaking, never-ending process.

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It’s unclear how many wheat varieties with useful climate- and disease-resistant traits have been lost as a result of the industrialization of our food system, but there are about 800,000 unique wheat seeds stored in gene banks globally, of which nearly a quarter are at CIMMYT.

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