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Crop Breeding for Climate Resilience in Southern Africa

The GCRF-AFRICAP programme’s first research seminar of the year ‘Crop breeding for climate resilience in southern Africa Webinar’ was held recently.

The Webinar recognised that seed systems play a vital role in achieving food security in southern Africa. Thus, targeting resilience to climate change within them is key to preparing for future climate scenarios.

The seminar explored this topic in depth, presenting an analysis of recent AFRICAP work to characterise efforts to breed climate resilient crops in southern Africa, considering and demonstrating potential ways to use climate models to inform breeding priorities and strategies, and discussing some of the possible pitfalls.

Watch the recording of ‘Crop Breeding for Climate Resilience in Southern Africa” on YouTube.

Following introductions by the seminar’s chair, Dr Chetan Deva, research fellow at the University of Leeds, Justify Shava kicked off the seminar with an overview of the inception, purpose and current work of the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Zambia, which he is head of. Through his hands-on experience, Shava illustrated how the SADC Plant Genetic Resources Centre coordinates and promotes conservation and sustainable utilisation of plant genetic resources by working with the 16 members states in southern Africa to collect and conserve plant genetic resources, helping shield against genetic erosion in the face of climate change.

With the context of southern Africa’s seed systems set by Shava, the seminar shifted focus to AFRICAP research, led by Dr Stephen Whitfield (Associate Professor in the School of Earth & Environment at the University of Leeds) and Dr Sarah Chapman (Research Fellow in the Institute of Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds).

In addition to defining how we understand the seed system, and explaining what a climate-resilient seed system looks like, Whitfield highlighted the underutilised potential for climate impact modelling and crop breeding. After talking through the aims of AFRICAP’s research on this topic, he explained the methods used, which included a survey that was disseminated to stakeholders across African seed systems.

Using a variety of examples from the research, Chapman talked through the specific ensemble used and the various factors considered in modelling activities, as well as the kinds of climate analysis that could be performed.

Whitfield ended the presentation with a summary of the research and key findings, emphasising the following three points:

  • Breeding for climate resilience currently looks at a narrow range of crops and traits. There’s a time lag that means conditions for commercial growing may be significantly different.
  • Climate model projections can help interrogate breeding options to provide a strong and more nuanced evidence base for resilient crop breeding.
  • This approach is not enough on its own, but should instead be part of an integrated knowledge and information system where uncertainty is communicated clearly.

Following the research presentation, Shava offered a response as the event’s discussant before moving to the audience Q&A session.

This seminar was hosted by the GCRF-AFRICAP programme in partnership with the Global Food and Environment Institute, University of Leeds.

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