Using Wild Relatives to Toughen up Staple Crops

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Crop wild relatives (CWR) are the ancient ancestors of our domesticated crops. Because they have been growing in the wild for millions of years, CWR have naturally developed characteristics that allow them to survive in unfavorable, hostile environments.

Among those notable traits are disease and pest resistance, and their ability to thrive in water-scarce and extremely hot conditions. Through domestication and crop breeding, many of these vital traits have been lost.

Successfully passing on these attributes to modern crops, whose productivity is hampered by climate change, could ensure the future of food and nutrition security for humanity.

The farmers most in need of resilient, nutritious, and sturdy crops are the ones working and living in the fragile dry areas, where the impacts of climate change on agriculture are obvious, and severe.

Exposed to dwindling water supplies, extreme heat, and intensifying plant and pest diseases, dryland family farms urgently need access to improved climate-smart crop varieties to preserve their way of life, income, and nutrition.

Acknowledging the importance of CWR as an extraordinary source of desirable traits, ICARDA has established itself as a center of excellence for their effective conservation and use.

For over four decades, ICARDA researchers have been collecting and studying CWR and making them available to the international community. ICARDA’s genebanks in Morocco and Lebanon hold over 140,000 plant accessions — or groups of related genetic plant material from a single species — many of which are CWR that may be highly endangered or even extinct in nature.

In close partnership with the Crop Trust, ICARDA scientists have successfully introduced CWR’s resistance to diseases, pests, drought, and extreme heat into the related improved varieties.

These newly developed climate-smart crop varieties have been promoted globally, along with ICARDA’s integrated packages, to help family farmers better manage their soil, land, and water.

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