New charity sows the seeds for better food security

A new charity based at the Universities of Bath and Warwick will use expert knowledge of plants to develop crops for the future and tackle the global issue of food security.

With the world’s human population expanding rapidly, and the demand for land and housing increasing the competition for space, future agriculture needs to produce larger yields from a smaller area of land and with fewer inputs, like water or pesticides. At the same time, crops grown today may fail to produce high yields as our climate changes, so depending on major staple crops, such as maize and rice, leaves our food supply more vulnerable than ever.

Now ‘Crop-Innovations’, a new charity based in our Department of Biology & Biochemistry and at the Warwick Crop Centre, brings cutting-edge plant research to farmers in order to help increase the value of under-utilised crops.

Efforts to increase usage of neglected and indigenous crops have previously been undermined by difficulties with seed production and quality, particularly in the developing world.

Using innovative research methods and techniques, Crop-Innovations will resolve problems related to plant seeds; problems that often occur in various aspects of the farming process, from germination to seed production and also in the use of seed as food.

Despite there being over 13,000 edible plants known worldwide, the majority of our food comes from a limited stock of around 20 crops. Not only does this restrict the availability of nutrients obtained from a more varied diet, it also costs more for the farmer and damages the environment. This is because the plants are often not well adapted to local environments and require unsustainable amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides.

milton_cornfield_08Commenting, Professor Rod Scott, Chair of the Board for Crop-Innovations and Head of the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at Bath, said: “Our over-reliance on a few food crops limits our ability to respond to these emerging global challenges. Every year, millions of pounds are spent improving major crops, but we also need to invest in research promoting agricultural diversity.”

The charity’s Operations Manager Heather Sanders added: “Local production of food from a greater variety of species will make vital nutrients readily available to more people worldwide. Using indigenous crop species that are able to grow in different climates or on marginal lands creates more robust yields and will help farming communities better cope with climate change.

“Crop-Innovations provides support to farmers and organisations working at grass-roots levels to promote sustainable agriculture and conservation. The results of our research will enable better use of the plants available and increase the value of the crop.”

For more on Crop-Innovations see http://www.crop-innovations.org/

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