Biodiversity in China is an opportunity for global food security
During a press conference at the British Science Festival, British Science Association presented research results proving that climate change undermines global food security. However, the rich flora of China could become essential for supporting future food security.
A team of scientists from Birmingham University and their Chinese counterparts identified 871 wild native species of plants growing in China. Those plants have the potential to adjust and maintain 28 kinds of crops which are of importance on a global scale, including rice, wheat, soybean, sorghum, bananas, apples, citrus fruits, grapes, stone fruits and millet. 42% of those plant species, called crop wild relatives (CWR), occur in China only.
CWR as a solution to providing food security
Crop wild relatives (CWR) are relatively wild plants which are closely related to domestic crop plants. Their geographic origins can be traced to regions known as Vavilov Centers, or the areas where a group of domesticated or wild organisms evolved to diversify their characteristic properties using evolution. CWR, or the wild relatives of crops, are increasingly becoming a key resource helping to improve the quality of agricultural production and maintain sustainable agricultural ecosystems.
Why are CWR a good basis?
Crop wild relatives are very similar and closely connected genetically to popular crops, which are important for social and economical reasons, such as food products, fodder and feeding stuff, healing plants, ornamental plants, spices, forest species, and industrial plants, such as oils and raw materials for the textile industry. Thus, CWR may have an impact on the development of those crucial plants. An example is transferring the adaptive features of the wild species, which might prove useful in difficult climates, when water supply is low or the soil is lacking in nutrients. CWR may also be used to improve the properties of the plant or to increase the resistance of the plant to diseases and pest.
Environmental protection and food security
The degradation of natural habitats is the main threat to CWR. Intensive deforestation is another risk factor that may lead to total eradication of the wild relatives of plants, trees and fruit shrubs. Moreover, some areas are turning into deserts due to grazing of livestock on a massive scale and rising average annual temperature, which could lead to water reservoirs and green areas drying up. The rapid industrialization of agriculture might also have a negative impact on agricultural ecosystems which function well.
China – undiscovered alimentary potential
The flora of China is very diversified, and includes over 20,000 native plant species, some of which have a rich genotype that may help improve the quality of crops. Their potential has remained unknown and unused. What is worrying is that 10% of the 871 Chinese CWR may soon become extinct. It is therefore vital to protect them, especially that China is the only place in the world where they grow.
In order to use the potential of CWR in the best manner, it is necessary to perceive them as an important element of the ecosystem, which is crucial for the environment and the agricultural activity. The presence and use of those plants, alongside the plantation types which are common, is the basis of sustainable farming. At the same time, it helps to increase food security in the world and to protect the natural environment.