Assessing the impact of climate change on agriculture

Leading crop scientists are gathering in Rabat, Morocco this week to discuss applied mathematics for innovative approaches to mining agricultural genebanks  for the discovery of climate change resistant traits to improve the effectiveness of breeding programs and food security for dry areas. As climate change brings more pests and diseases to new agricultural areas where they  previously did not exist, approaches to the more efficient and rapid discovery of the 7 million accessions in the world’s  agricultural genebanks are needed. This will improve the effectiveness of breeding programs to produce crop varieties that are resistant to a wide variety of pests, diseases, and bio-physical constraints. 

The workshop – Applied Mathematics and Omics Techologies for Discovering Biodiversity and Genetic Resources for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation for Sustainable Agriculture in Drylands – is holding focused discussions on the following themes, including:

·         Climate change and its impacts on agriculture

·         Applied mathematics and modeling approaches for the adaptation of crops to changing climates in dryland systems

·         Plant phenomics for adapting crops to changing climates

·         Plant genomics for adapting crops to changing climates

Climate change and its impact on agriculture 

The workshop kicked off with a wide-ranging discussion on climate change and its impact on agriculture, initiated by a presentation delivered by Drs. Christopher T. Simmons and H. Damon Matthew of Concordia University, who outlined different scenarios in the years ahead for dryland areas. The presentation highlighted the implications of using different models.  

The consensus was that climate models generally demonstrated continued water-scarcity and higher temperatures in many areas – including the Mediterranean Basin, the Black Sea, and southern Africa – which could also lead to decreasing levels of humidity over time.

ICARDA’s Dr. Chandra Biradar highlighted the potential of geo-informatics for predicting climate change outcomes, generating data that could help to better target and locate climate change-related traits in genetic resources.   

A subsequent presentation focused on a community in the Benslimane Region of Morocco where a ‘systems approach’ to agricultural research for development had been applied to help farmers adapt to climate change. Morocco is facing diminishing rainfall, increasing temperatures, and salinity. Key recommendations to emerge from this research included an increased diversity in local crops and the expanded development of improved varieties.            

The final session of the first theme concluded with a presentation from Dr. Zakaria Kehel of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center who discussed the potential for using ‘pedigree’ in for assessing genetic resources for useful traits.   

Theme 2: Applied mathematics and modeling approaches

How can mathematics and modeling help adapt crops to changing climatic conditions? The second session of the first day was devoted to answering this key question – a vital consideration in efforts to sustain production during dry areas in the years ahead.

The first presentation discussed patterns of genetic variability and implications for exploring genetic resources for adaption and mitigation to changing climatic conditions. A key argument suggested that patterns captured in mathematical teems implied the possibility of prediction, which could help to trace agronomically-important traits such as drought, salinity, and heat tolerance.

Also discussed was climate change-induced shifts in crop phenology and growing cycles, and the adaptation of potato crops to climate change: production is likely to shift to areas where potatoes were never previously grown, which would also have implications for crop improvement since heat and cold-trait germplasm would be needed to grow the plant.