Photo credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia

The development of new crops needs to be faster in those areas where climate change is rapidly pushing up temperatures, this, according to researchers who studied corn crops in several African countries.

Researchers have investigated how climate today affects the corn farming in sub-Saharan Africa and concluded that higher temperatures due to climate change are already reducing the time between planting and harvest. This means that the crops do not have time enough to grow as they did before, resulting in smaller harvests.

Today, it takes up to 30 years to develop and introduce new maize varieties that can withstand higher temperatures. But already within a couple of years, many crops are at their heat threshold.

The process of developing new more heat resilient corn crops need to speed up, at the international level, making it easier to introduce new crops on the market.

“Responding better to changes in climate by improving efficiency of the breeding cycle and reducing the amount of time it takes to get improved maize into the hands of farmers is key to ensuring a food secure future,” said International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) maize breeder and co-author of the study Biswanath Das.

“Current warming will reduce yields unless maize breeding and seed systems adapt immediately,” Das said. “Increased collaboration among different breeding institutes and public-private collaborations are needed so that we share information, technologies, and germplasm to make the best germplasm and technology available to the widest number of scientists as possible.”

“Seed systems could be working with regulators to reduce the amount of time it takes for varieties to become available to farmers and developing new ways of producing seed more cheaply and efficiently while maintaining quality.”

Another concrete action, according to the researchers may be to develop crops in greenhouses with temperatures that match what climate models predict future temperatures will be, in these more extreme areas.

But besides these areas, the researchers note that virtually all of the world need shorten the time of development of new varieties of crops to avoid greater harvest reductions.

Current warming will reduce yields unless maize breeding and seed systems adapt immediately