Climate Change

Conserving and promoting crop diversity to enhance food security in a changing climate.
The Genetic Resources group has secured funding from AusAID through the International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (ICCAI).  This funding is based on the premise that crop diversity is essential to assist farmers in managing climate change

Traditionally Pacific Island communities have grown multiple crops, an agricultural practice which makes food supply resilient, as not all crops are affected by specific climatic extremes such as droughts or cyclones. However, the diversity and intensity of local production in most countries has weakened. Many Pacific Island countries are very reliant on imported foods and so are vulnerable to any changes in the production and supply of those foods. Increasing local food production is one way in which to buffer external shocks, but the influence of climate change cannot be ignored, if any increase in local food production is to be sustained.

Climate change places demands on the crops – crops and varieties are required to withstand unpredictable biotic stresses, such as drought, salt, high temperature and water-logging. Farmers in the Pacific need to be able to plant crops/varieties which they know will be productive despite the vagaries of the growing season. Different crops and varieties, provides them with a “toolkit of diversity” with which to plan for, and react to the changes in the climate.

The Pacific region has crops and crop varieties with known tolerance/resistance to these biotic demands such as some aroids (Xanthosoma, Alocasia and swamp taro). In addition some varieties of other crops, such as taro, sweet potato, banana and cassava have been recognized as having drought and/or salt tolerance. However, access to them by farmers is not guaranteed or easy. In some cases, the fact that these crops/varieties have these desirable traits is not widely known. Availability of planting material is also a constraint – many of these crops/varieties are not in a central location to facilitate distribution and, there are usually problems with the supply of planting material.

The ICCAI funded project consists of several components, namely:

  • Climate- Ready Collection
  • Development of drought and salt tolerant varieties using in vitro and in vivo methods
  • Assessment of the impact of increased carbon concentration (carbon fertilization)
  • Agrobiodiversity – a more holistic approach to agricultural production

Climate-Ready collection
The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees is establishing a “climate-ready” collection consisting of crops and varieties with desired "climate-ready" traits, such as drought, salt, high temperature, waterlogging tolerance. These crops/varieties are being sourced locally through collecting from the countries with the support of our national partners. The focal points of the Pacific Plant Genetic Resources Network are assisting in identifying the target crops/varieties. Once collected this material must be established in tissue culture and virus tested before it can be distributed to any other country.

The CePaCT is also accessing accessions for the climate-ready collection from outside the region, mainly from the International Agriculture Research Centres (IARCs).  The IARCs have the capacity to use advanced molecular techniques, enabling them to identify and select for genes controlling stress tolerance. These techniques are especially important for successfully transferring desirable traits from crop-related wild plants into commercial varieties of domesticated species. For example, researchers at the International Tropical Agriculture Institute (IITA) in Nigeria are evaluating cassava in the semi-arid regions of East and West Africa to determine what mechanisms enable the crop to withstand dry spells. Using the tools of molecular biology, the genes for this trait can be identified, which will further enhance the drought tolerance of cassava.

Funding for this work has been made available by the International Climate Change Initiative (AusAID) the US government and the French Pacific Fund.

Development of drought and salt tolerant varieties using in vitro and in vivo methods
This component of the AusAID-funded International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative (ICCAI) seeks to identify methodology that can assist in screening diversity for these traits and to utilize in vitro technology to determine if tolerances can be improved. To date a Masters student has been engaged to work on the salinity of Cyrtosperma merkusii (swamp taro). This work is in collaboration with SOPAC.