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Mitchell: Crops are key in fight against climate change

4 December 2010

Crops that survive the devastating effects of climate change are needed to save the world's poorest people from hunger and poverty, the International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said today as he announced a new agricultural research programme.

The UK is giving extra support to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to develop farming practices which will help ensure more food is available for struggling communities.

Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary, said:

"We urgently need to develop crops that can survive a future blighted by the floods, droughts, rising temperatures and natural disasters that climate change may bring.

"Innovation during the Green Revolution led to huge increases in food production across the world. We now need similar scientific breakthroughs to make sure millions of the world’s poorest do not go hungry as a result of climate change.

"That's why the UK is committed to supporting research that will help find practical solutions to climate change."

Andrew Mitchell spoke ahead of the launch of a new CGIAR research programme at the UN Climate Change Conference.

Working with the CGIAR to help developing country farmers deal with the effects of climate change and improve environmental management is one of the most cost effective ways to tackle poverty and hunger. For every £1 invested in the CGIAR, at least an additional £9 worth of additional food is produced in developing countries.

Inger Andersen, Chair of the CGIAR Fund and Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, said: "This innovative programme will deliver significant impacts by helping adapt agriculture to future climate change and to the climate variability that farmers face now.

"It will build on 40 years of CGIAR research, particularly its success in developing hardier crop varieties, better ways to manage natural resources and powerful tools for analyzing the impacts of a changing climate."

One example of CGIAR's cutting-edge developments is a special flood-resistant rice that can breathe under water for up to two weeks.

The grain – known as scuba rice – has a flood-resistant gene and survives by extending its leaves and stems above the water's surface to escape drowning.

The release of flood-tolerant rice varieties will potentially benefit 18 million farming households in Asia – providing them with valuable protection during the monsoon season.

Andrew Mitchell, UK Secretary of State for International Development, added:

"Scuba rice is just one example of an innovation that has the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty and prevent the extreme hunger caused when crops fail due to flooding.

"The effects of climate change are likely to destroy crops – and livelihoods. But thanks to British taxpayers, developments such as scuba rice will help farmers in the world's poorest countries adapt to a changing climate and ensure their communities are fed."

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • CGIAR supports high quality research, covering all major staple crops, livestock, fisheries, forestry and the environment
  • It develops new technologies and techniques to ensure research is used to make a real difference to the lives of poor people. If the CGIAR did not exist, it is estimated that world food production would have been 4-5% lower and world grain prices would have been 18-21% higher
  • In 2010/11 DFID will allocate £36.75M to the CGIAR, comprising:
    • £7.25M to a new CGIAR Consortium Research Programme which will help adapt farming systems in the developing world to both current and progressive climate change and limit its impact. This is part of the UK's £1.5Bn commitment to International Fast Start funding.
    • £3M to a new CGIAR Consortium Research Programme which will accelerate productivity of rice - 30% of this is Fast Start funding
    • £26.50M to the CGIAR research centres in order to ensure continuity of and support to the current reform process of the CGIAR systems - 30% of this is Fast Start Funding.
  • Scuba rice - developed by the International Research Rice Institute (IRRI), one of CGIARs agricultural research centres – is one way to help farmers beat the effects of climate change.
    After a 15-day flood in Bangladesh, almost 98% of the scuba rice recovered from complete submersion compared with just 10-12% of the traditional variety.

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