Plant breeders continually develop new crop varieties to help farmers adapt to extreme conditions brought on by climate change. These climate smart crops are playing a significant role in alleviating hunger and poverty in Asia and Africa.
Addressing Submergence in South Asia
In South Asia — where the majority of the wold’s rice is grown — submergence stress causes $1 billion in annual losses. However, breeders have developed a new form of rice, known as Sub-1 or “scuba rice” which is capable of surviving underwater. This innovative breed of rice aids smallholding farmers in their fight against flooding.
“Scuba rice” possesses the ability to lay dormant in floods. Normal rice will wear out or develop root rot, which significantly lowers crop yields.
In addition, the Stress Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, coordinated by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has distributed “scuba rice” to 5 million farmers in South Asia within five years.
Overcoming Drought in Southern Africa
Conversely, Southern Africa is undergoing one of its worst droughts in nearly three decades.
Farmers have implemented climate smart crops, including drought resistant maize and beans, across sub-Saharan Africa.
Plant breeders have designed these new varieties deliberately depending on the climate change and growing conditions of the area. Farmers using climate smart crops produce crop yields of equal or greater value in comparison to commercial crop varieties.
The Drought-Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project has released nearly 200 unique drought resistant maize varieties since 2007. Similarly, the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance has released more than 450 new bean varieties within the past two decades.
Farmers in Rwanda who are using the improved bean varieties have seen their yields increase by more than 50 percent.
Edward Mabaya is an agricultural economist and the Associate Director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture & Development. Mabaya grew up on a small rural farm in Zimbabwe and understands the impact that agricultural development can have on developing nations.
In his article for Al Jazeera, Mabaya said, “I owe my education, and my consequent escape from poverty, to improved seed varieties.”
Climate Smart Crops and Poverty Alleviation
Agricultural research and development allow for the creation of products like climate crops. Countries in need of innovative solutions to poverty and hunger benefit greatly from their distribution.
“When the Gates Foundation started focusing on poverty alleviation in the developing world, the co-chairs realized that agricultural productivity was going to be a very important part of the process of getting people out of absolute poverty,” stated Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in an article for Devex International Development.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other non-profit organizations, have invested in STRASA and other projects helping to make agricultural innovation a priority in the fight against poverty and hunger.
– Kristyn Rohrer