As climate change and disease continue to affect crops worldwide and threaten food security, experts are meeting in Kigali at a crop development meeting proposing solutions to these threats through resilient varieties.
The meeting by the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture started Monday and closes Friday.
The meeting convened participants from over 140 countries signatories to the treaty.
The Treaty was adopted to ensure conservation and sustainable use of all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security.
According to FAO’s 2016 report on State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) titled, Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, the sheer number of smallholder farm families in developing countries – some 475 million – justifies a specific focus on the threat posed by climate change to their livelihoods and the urgent need to transform those livelihoods along sustainable pathways.
It underscores that success in transforming food and agriculture systems will largely depend on urgently supporting smallholder farmers in adapting to climate change.
Farmers raise issues
Karwa Amani, the president of COOPROMASA, a cooperative of maize farmers in Gatsibo District, said they face diseases such as armyworm, and drought which affect their maize crops, which have resulted in crop yield reduction.
“Our yield reduced from 200 tonnes in 2014 to about 140 tonnes in 2016,” he told The New Times, calling for efforts to ensure crops resilient to diseases and drought.
Majory Jeke, a farmer from Zimbabwe, said the theme of the seventh forum, “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the role of PGRFA,” is pertinent and timely.
“It is relevant particularly now when we, as farmers in developing countries, are experiencing extreme weather events caused by climate change, which is leading to extreme hunger and poverty,” she said.
While opening the forum, the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr Gerardine Mukeshimana, noted that crops are attacked by diseases that even attack people, including those caused by virus, bacteria, fungus, nematodes, all kinds of living disease-carrying organisms.
She said the main objective is to develop varieties which have disease resistance or disease tolerance.
And the crop disease issue is getting worse owing to climate change, as changing temperatures are becoming a breeding area for disease agents among crops, the minister added.
Dr René Castro-Salazar, the assistant director-general for climate, biodiversity, land and water department at FAO, said there is difference between nature’s time and the diplomatic time, expressing the need to act quickly to tackle the issues of crop diversity and productivity.
“Above all, we are here because the world and the UN committed that, by 2030, there should be zero hunger,” he said.
Ann Tutwiler, the director-general for Bioversity International, a global research for development organisation, said [plant] genetic resources do not contribute to food security by “sitting in cold storage rooms.”
“They (genetic resources) need to be used and improved and widely disseminated to [farmers] to have an impact,” she said.
It is the first time this conference is held in sub-Saharan Africa.