Ancient crops to help modern agricolture

May 07, 2017 | written by:

Who suffers more from climate change? Farmers and crops, becoming more vulnerable to the effects of the ongoing change that is carrying much more drought and heavier rainfall, especially in the Mediterranean region and large parts of Africa, and recently also in north Europe. These are all areas dedicated to the so-called cash crops – like corn and wheat – depending on stable weather to get a good harvest. It’s urgent to find a remedy and seems that researchers found it in species originating in warmer climates, accustomed to higher temperatures and perfect to encourage diversity and compensate risks of an extreme weather.

It’s PROTEIN2FOOD to carry out this work plan, an EU-funded project that’s exploring ancient crops and legumes to help make modern agriculture more sustainable. The project is coordinated by Professor Sven-Erik Jacobsen from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. At the moment our modern agriculture is not sustainable due to the fact that these crops put added pressure on water supplies and deplete overused soils of crucial nutrients.

But surely, more than a project this is a challenge, as it is necessary to move tastes and ways of working towards a different market with more resilient species. The researchers are focusing on three species of high protein qualityquinoa, amaranth and buckwheat - as well as legumes like pea, faba bean and lupin, chosen due to potential yield and desirable taste. All factors need to be addressed to convince farmers to move to new crops. Especially lupin would be a valid alternative to milk and cream and PROTEIN2FOOD is studying how to succeed. Concerning quinoa, researchers sustain that by now quinoa cultivation occurs in more than 70 countries and is the worthy heir to the humble potato brought in the 16th century to Europe from South America. The current demand is active and driven by quinoa’s low-gluten content that can make flour for bread and pasta that is suitable for people with celiac disease. 

All these options need to be taken into account even more than the past considering the FAO stated that the worldwide demand for food is expected to rise 70 % by 2050, and because agriculture both contributes to climate change and is affected by it, a more sustainable system is needed to secure global food supplies.

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