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Changing to new grape varieties could be one approach for adapting viticulture to climate change. However, the use of less conventional varieties or even different species of crops and livestock is also considered in other sectors of agriculture.

Underutilised or neglected crops

Staple crops are likely to face major challenges in the near future and a diversification away from an over-reliance on these key varieties will be important, if we are to achieve global food security in the future. Underutilised or neglected crop species are often indigenous ancient crop species which are still used at community level, but have the potential to contribute to the mix of food sources and to increase food security. Underutilised or neglected crops can also offer a smart way to increase the sustainability of agriculture, through the reduced requirement for inputs, such as synthetic fertilisers. The potential of these crops is not fully realised at present because of their limited competitiveness with commodity crops in mainstream agriculture. Highly adapted to marginal, complex, and difficult environments and contributing significantly to diversification and resilience of agroecosystems, underutilised crops are of considerable interest for future adaptation of agriculture to climate change. Besides food crops, underutilised species include many different species – wild and cultivated – which can be used as sources of: oil, fuel, fibre, fodder, and medicine. Only a diversified agricultural portfolio represents a robust agricultural production system, with the capacity to withstand future change. The role of underutilised species needs to be better recognised. One particular group of underutilised wild species that are of particular value, are the wild relatives of staple crops. Especially valuable are those species that are likely to withstand the impact of climate change, as well as providing genetic traits that confer resilience to abiotic stresses such as extreme drought and flooding.

Traditional societies already deploy strategies that use crop diversity to reduce risks and mitigate the impacts of environmental changes. An example is provided by Indian farmers who plant many crops and varieties that allow them to adjust planting dates and crop mixtures (eg “Akdi” and “Barhanaja” systems) to better cope with erratic rainfall patterns. Such mixed cropping systems are inherently more stable and resilient compared to monocultures. There is also evidence that these systems are more productive than monocultures. This concept is similar to the example of biodiverse forages for dairy cows, covered in Week 2, where mixtures of different pasture plants can potentially cope better with extreme climatic events than ryegrass monocultures.

Other valuable alternatives for climate adaptation

Besides the option of using different varieties or breeds, some farmers my decide to switch farming type all together. In the case of rice farmers in the Bangladesh delta area, for example, the increased salinization of the paddies has prompted many of them to switch to shrimp cultivation. Switching not only to new varieties within one species, but to a completely different produce could offer a way for some farmers to adapt to climate change

The issue of increased soil salinity is very much felt in many coastal and delta areas around the world, and is likely to increase with rising sea levels. A company in the Netherlands for example, Salt Farm Texel, is looking into cultivating salt-tolerant varieties of common crops such as: potato, lettuce, strawberry and barley, to provide farmers with alternatives that do not require major on-farm changes.

References and further reading:

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The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture

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