According to a new report from Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, there are 7,000 edible plants that could thrive in a hotter environment, thus nourishing millions of people.
“Diversifying the crops people grow and eat is key to tackling both issues as the planet heats up,” says Tiziana Ulian, lead author of the food chapter and a senior scientist at Kew Gardens. “Humanity faces a double challenge.” Half the global population relies on three crops – rice, maize and wheat – as staple foods, and climate change threatens their survival. “If humanity is to thrive in future, we need to make our food production systems more diverse, resilient and environmentally sustainable,” says the report.
Some “neglected” plants show great promises. For example, pandanus – a small tree that grows in Hawaii and in the Philippines – is rich in nutrients, and resistant to pests and diseases. It can also grow in difficult conditions such as drought, strong winds, and salt spray. Realizing the potential of these plants remains a challenge, but policies like the one in Brazil which stipulates that at least 30% of food for school meals must come from local farmers is a way to support a more diverse diet.