As the world’s population grows and the climate challenges our ability to grow crops, how can agriculture provide enough food? Can we get more from our current food crops for less?
Scientists and farmers alike have been increasingly haunted by the environmental effects of high-intensity farming over the last half century. There is now an urgent need to be more mindful of the landscape and our finite ecological resources.
Professor Kathy Willis, science director of Kew Gardens, looks at how we can breed better-adapted and more efficient crops. Rice is a staple food for more than half the world’s population. To maintain this in the face of population growth and land-loss to urbanisation, rice yields will have to increase by over 50% by 2050. Kathy Willis examines an ambitious plan to turbocharge photosynthesis in rice – improving the way it captures sunlight, to produce sugar and oxygen from carbon dioxide and water in hotter dryer climates.
New technology to imaging plant roots below ground is also having a profound impact on plant root architecture that breeding programmes hope to capitalise on in order to improve any crop’s ability to forage for water and nutrients. But can we achieve the necessary varieties in time? Should we re-evaluate some of the highly resilient crops we have tended to undervalue such as sorghum and cassava?
(Photo: Farm workers harvesting rice. Credit: Nick Wood)
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