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As climate becomes a moving target, 'virtual crops' aim for the future

Crops resilient to climate change are especially important to farmers in developing countries. Photo: <a href="">CIMMYT (Flickr)</a>.
Crops resilient to climate change are especially important to farmers in developing countries. Photo: CIMMYT (Flickr).

Climate change is threatening crop survival. Some researchers believe the solution lies in "virtual crops."

Using state-of-the-art computer modeling, scientists are identifying stress-resistant agricultural traits and testing out their hunches on plants that don't exist yet. The goal of this research is to determine crop characteristics that will produce the highest yields in increasingly hostile environments.

This is crop design 3.0: Even before cross-breeding or genetic engineering begins, computers are calculating what characteristics need to be engineered.

Global Futures, a research collaboration including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), made up of economists, agronomists and breeders, uses an economic model called the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT). Created by the International Food Policy Research Institute, IMPACT takes guesses at how climate change and other economic and environmental trends will change agriculture.

Computer-modelling in bio-sciences isn't new but, according to an article in AllAfrica, "this the first instance of using these tools to assess technologies before they are actually created."

The Global Futures project realizes the importance higher yield-crops have for self-employed farmers in developing countries, and are focusing their efforts on "regions that are most vulnerable to global changes in the next 30 to 50 years and on the needs of the rural poor and smallholder farmers."

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