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Ancient Crops Find New Life

07:44 EST 9 Mar 2017 | Meridian Institute

This article highlights the work of Crops for the Future, the first worldwide research center dedicated to underutilized crops. Located at the University of Nottingham campus in Malaysia, the facility grows plants that researchers here say could be our best hope for feeding the planet’s rapidly growing population. Overreliance on wheat, rice and maize, which currently account for nearly 60 percent of the world’s calories, the researchers say, is unsustainable. Instead, the scientists at Crops for the Future are identifying and breeding a diverse array of nutritious crops that are already adapted to a variety of climates. Sayed Azam-Ali, the center’s director, works to incentivize farmers to plant a broader range of potential food sources than they currently do. His goal is to reverse the worldwide trend toward greater reliance on fewer crop species. “[Just a few] crops might sustain the world but they are not going to nourish it,” he says. And climate change is heightening the need for quick action. As temperatures rise, says Azam-Ali, “the big crops, by themselves, will not be able to deliver food or nutritional security.” While maize, wheat and rice have their place, he adds, “they can’t be expected to do the whole job. We’ve got to have more crops.” Azam-Ali has spent the last year gathering support for a US$50 million “Global Action Plan for Agricultural Diversification,” which he says could help nations incorporate hundreds of drought-tolerant, highly nutritious, underutilized crops into farms and diets. “We’re really at a critical stage,” he says. “If funding doesn’t come in, all of this will stop.” The hurdles facing Crops for the Future include how to find a place for these old species in modern global food systems, as well as recruiting enough countries, and resources, to translate the evidence into crops growing in fields. “We have thousands of plants we aren’t doing anything with. I want to see people in Africa and Asia better nourished, growing their own crops,” says Azam-Ali, adding that in this rapidly changing world, the future lies in the past.

Original Article: Ancient Crops Find New Life

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