Elliot Ziwira-Senior Writer
As the world reels from climate-change shocks increasingly impacting negatively on agriculture through high temperatures, erratic rainfall, drought, flooding and sea-level rise, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), a Research Centre part of Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has announced a US$25 million project aimed at developing climate-smart crop varieties.
In a statement released last Thursday, CIMMYT said the endeavour, whose objective is to benefit millions of small-scale farmers across the globe, will help in developing climate-smart versions of cassava, maize, sorghum, cowpea and rice, using CGIAR genebanks.
This comes as the Government of Zimbabwe calls for climate finance and large-scale investments in green energy to significantly reduce emissions and enhance climate change mitigation for the good of agricultural activities in the country; particularly climate-smart agriculture.
Speaking at the recently held Financing Climate Change Adaptation Conference in Harare organised by the Business Weekly in Partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants Zimbabwe (ICAZ) and Financial Markets, Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Mangaliso Ndlovu, said climate action was national priority.
Managing director for CGIAR, Research Delivery and Impact, and executive management team convener, Claudia Sadoff, said small-scale farmers can produce more food in spite of challenges caused by climate change if better crop varieties are developed.
“Drought-resistant staple crops, such as maize and wheat, that ensure food amid water scarcity, and faster-growing, early-maturing varieties that produce good harvests in erratic growing seasons can make a world of difference for those who depend on agriculture,” Sadoff said.
“This is the potential for climate-adaptive breeding that lies untapped in CGIAR’s genebanks.” Scientists believe that the resilience of food production can be enhanced by incorporating the diversity in the trove of genetic material in genebanks into new crop varieties. Hence, overcoming many of the barriers impeding the fight against malnutrition and hunger around the globe.
The project, titled “Mining useful alleles for climate change adaptation from CGIAR genebanks,” is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It combines cutting-edge technologies, high-performance computing, GIS mapping, and new plant breeding methods to identify valuable variations in CGIAR genebanks throughout the world and deploy these to farmers who urgently need solutions to address the threat of climate change , through breeding.
The project is a series of Innovation Sprints coordinated by the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) initiative, which is led by the United Arab Emirates and the United States of America.
Interim director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Enock Chikava, said breeding new resilient crop varieties “quickly, economically and with greater precision will be critical to ensure small-scale farmers can adapt to climate change.”
He added that the initiative will go a long way in contributing to a more promising and sustainable future for “hundreds of millions of Africans who depend on farming to support their families.”
Jeffrey Rosichan, director of the Crops of the Future Collaborative of the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), said research is key in developing climate-smart crop varieties, and ensuring that those hardest hit by climate shocks have access to affordable staple foods.
CGIAR Centres have, over the past 40 years, built up the largest and most frequently accessed network of genebanks in the world.
The network conserves and makes nearly three-quarters of a million crop accessions available to scientists and governments.