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CIP Deputy Director warns of the dire consequences of a ‘crop pandemic’, biodiversity loss

As the impacts of climate change intensify — from water scarcity to raging fires and disease outbreaks — the ability to keep pace with demand for food will increasingly rely on crops adapted to new conditions. To achieve this crop breeders will need the full range of tools at their disposal. So says Oscar Ortiz, Deputy Director General for Research and Development at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru.

His viewpoints were published in an op-ed piece published in The Revelator, an online news and ideas initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity. His article is titled “A Crop Pandemic Would Be as Devastating for Biodiversity and Food Security as COVID-19“.

Ortiz warns that biodiversity loss threatens national security. He says that while conserving flora and fauna in their natural habitat remains an immediate priority, global food security in the long term must be futureproofed through continued investment in the preservation of plant genetic material.

According to Ortiz, “a model for this futureproofing exists at my organization, the International Potato Center (Centro Internacional de la Papa, or CIP) in Lima, Peru. Here we host the world’s most extensive collection of potato and sweetpotato material, which conserves more than 15,000 samples of root and tuber crops. This genetic material can be drawn upon to minimize disruption to food supplies if one variety is lost to natural causes like disease or human-caused processes like climate change.”

The threat is far from theoretical, Ortiz writes. He points out that more than a dozen varieties of native and wild potatoes are already in danger of disappearing due to temperature changes or loss of habitat, while diseases are emerging in new places to endanger other popular crops, including varieties of wheat and bananas, and their wild relatives. In total two-fifths of the world’s plants are at risk of extinction, according to new research.

Maintaining diverse reserves of the widest possible variety of genetic material offers the greatest chance of protecting the public from potential food shortages, Ortiz writes.

“Indeed, breeders must screen thousands of potatoes over many years to identify only one or two that address the needs of farmers in terms of productivity and climate resilience. Without a reserve of potential material to screen, important advances in new crop varieties would be stymied.”

You can read Oscar Ortiz’ full article on The Revelator website here.

Source: The Revelator
Photo: Native potatoes. Courtesy David Duddenhoefer/CIP (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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