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Food security and climate change: the answer is biodiversity

08 / 07 / 2008, Eldis Biodiversity

Climate change will profoundly affect agriculture and food security worldwide and will particularly impact smallholder farmers in poor countries. Based on a short review of recent scientific literature, this document argues that the most effective strategy to adapt agriculture to climate change is to increase biodiversity. Key points include:

a mix of different crops and varieties in one field is a proven and highly reliable farming method to increase resilience to erratic weather changes, as well as reducing the probability of pests and diseases
one of the best proven ways to increase stress tolerance in single varieties are modern breeding technologies that do not entail genetic engineering, such as Marker Assisted Selection, which facilitates the selection of conventional crosses with traits associated with multiple genes

In contrast, the document argues that there is no evidence that genetically engineered (GE) plants can ever play any role to increase food security in a changing climate. It stresses that GE plants:

will provide no security against extreme weather changes. In a best case scenario, they may be resistant to a single stress, such as heat or drought, but not to the expected rapid and radical weather changes
will lack any sophisticated regulation of the inserted gene and thus cannot respond to changing challenges
because of their higher price, will most likely be planted in monocultures, which have the highest risk of failing in changeable and extreme weather.

The authors emphasise that the same conclusion is reflected in the recent IAASTD report, which considered GE crops to be irrelevant to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and to eradicating hunger. They also note that, by reducing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and by using farming techniques that increase soil carbon, bio-diverse farming can also contribute to mitigating climate change. The document concludes by recommending that policy makers follow the IAASTD’s recommendations and invest more in agricultural R&D that is geared towards modern, effective, bio-diverse farming.

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