Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Summary Statement from a Bellagio Meeting

This Statement summarizes the results of the third in a series of consultations between agricultural scientists (in particular those interested in the conservation and use of crop diversity in plant improvement) and climate scientists on how to adapt agriculture to climate change. The first meeting, also held at Bellagio (3-7 September 2007), looked at the Conservation and Use of Global Crop Genetic Resources in the Face of Climate Change. It identified three major challenges facing the adaptation process: collecting crop diversity before it disappears, using it to breed better adapted crops, and informing key players of the increased need for the conservation and effective use of crop genetic resources in the face of climate change.

The second meeting, held at Stanford University on 16-18 June 2009, looked more specifically at breeding, and in particular at Climate Extremes and Crop Adaptation. Among other things, it recommended that efforts to develop heat tolerant cultivars of the major cereals be intensified, and that greater investments be made in genotyping and phenotyping the variation already held in genebanks, and in collecting remaining diversity.

This third meeting in the series, and second at Bellagio, focused on a specific area of intersection between the ground covered by the previous consultations: the role of plants that are closely related to crops but are not themselves cultivated (crop wild relatives, or CWRs for short) in breeding cultivars better adapted to future climates. We structured the discussion into three sections, and summarize the results in the same way below. We also note that the tight focus of this short meeting on CWR is not meant to indicate that other strategies for adaptation are less worthwhile. For example, changes in agronomic practices, such as the adoption of conservation agriculture, may well be an effective adaptation strategy, and one that complements crop genetic improvement. It was also often noted that the use of CWRs is but one of many tools in the breeder's toolbox.