UK - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Landscape scale genomic-environment diversity data to model existing and novel agri-systems under climate change to enhance food security in Ethiopia
Programme Data Last Updated: 23/03/2022
IATI Identifier: GB-GOV-13-FUND--GCRF-BB_S014896_1
Context: Ethiopia has historically been the world's largest recipient of targeted food aid, yet little food-insecurity has been reported for the southern Ethiopian highlands even during the devastating famines of the 1980s. Today, the agri-systems of the southern Ethiopian highlands successfully support one of the highest rural population densities in Africa (up to 1000persons/sqkm). Here, we investigate the landscape scale dynamics, interactions and resilience of these agri-systems, using interdisciplinary environmental modelling, crop genomics and natural capital approaches to understand how best to manage their response to climate change whilst continuing to provide food security for a growing Ethiopian population - predicted to reach 172 million by 2050. Ethiopia is an important center of diversity for food crops, with an agricultural history defined by the domestication of numerous species including coffee, tef and enset. Southern Ethiopian agri-systems include more than 78 cultivated species encompassing roots, tubers, cereals, vegetables, fruits and pulses, including a very high proportion of indigenous crops. Typical farms average 19 different crop and livestock species underpinned by over 120 species of useful trees and shrubs co-occuring across the homegarden landscape. Research on individual crop species also indicates extremely high diversity, for example we have recorded >600 enset varieties, including up to 24 on a single farm, and 37 varieties of yam. This diversity aggregated at multiple scales may be the key to the past resilience of the southern Ethiopian highlands in times of famine, and the source of future resilience to climate change. Aims: Building on previous research, we hypothesize that the biotic drivers of high agri-system productivity and resilience are: (1) cultivation of a high crop diversity within farms, (2) cultivation of high genetic diversity within crop species and (3) cultivation practices that commonly involve diverse mixes of annual and perennial, indigenous and alien, semi-domesticated and domesticated crops. This rich diversity at multiple scales can in principle support food security and sustainable intensification whilst buffering seasonal food deficits, emerging pests and diseases and facilitating agronomic adaptation; despite an average farm size of only 0.9 hectares and very few off-farm inputs such as irrigation systems and fertilizers. In contrast to this indigenous diversity, farmers also grow highly domesticated introduced crops such as maize, avocado and banana, providing an ideal opportunity to evaluate these hypotheses. These crops are high yielding but likely to contain less genetic diversity. This may limit their capacity for adaptation to new or altered environments and their resilience to climate change. The prevalence of these introduced crops is increasing, together with a reported loss of indigenous crop diversity and a shift away from agro-forestry. The impacts of these trends as well as the projected impact of climate change on the resilience of Ethiopian agri-systems is unknown. Applications and benefits: Our research will generate landscape scale environmental suitability, genomic and natural capital data to underpin a decision making tool for sustainable agri-system development and climate adaptation in the region. By enhance future resource provision and resilience, we will generate clear economic and social impact on the livelihoods they support. The novel methods employed here will be of both broader academic interest in the fields of agronomy, crop breeding and conservation and provide immediate knowledge-transfer and resources to enhance Ethiopia's research capability. Most importantly, capitalizing on our strong existing UK-Ethiopian partnerships and links to regional government we will seek development and implementation of science-based regional agri-systems strategy to bring immediate impact within the life of the project.Objectives
Our principal aim is to apply UK research excellence across three disciplines; genomics (the crops) climatic modelling (the environment), and agroecological practice (management), to understand the drivers, interactions and resulting performance (ecosystem provision) of diverse Ethiopian agri-systems across multiple scales to enhance sustainable intensification and ensure resilience to future climate change. This approach seeks to generate data to underpin a strategy for improving livelihoods for rural Ethiopians whilst generating world-class transferable research insights to the benefit of regional and global agriculture. Our objectives will be underpinned by ten high-impact open-access journal articles (outlined in the Case for Support), a published regional agri-system strategy and advice pamphlets disseminated through a network of agricultural extension agents and model farmers. 1) Development and implementation of an evidence-based regional agri-system strategy, to guide the landscape scale management and sustainable intensification of Ethiopian agri-systems, despite the impact of climate change, whilst maintaining resilient livelihoods (i.e. starch, protein and cash crops). This coherent strategy should encompass utilization of appropriate genomic resources, climate matched crop selection and management strategies to sustainably optimise outputs. 2) An interdisciplinary meta-analysis combining, phylogenetic characterization, genotype-environment association analysis, climatic envelope modelling (both in the present and future), agri-system management and resulting ecosystem service provision to identify the key drivers of agri-system resilience and production. 3) Generation and dissemination to farmers of selected and local-climate-optimized enset seedlings, tapping into existing market chains to reverse the decline of this important food security crop. 4) High resolution data at the landscape scale mapping the distribution and spatial environmental suitability of diverse current Ethiopian agri-systems. Supported by: a. Combining analysis of environmental suitability, with metrics of ecosystem service provisioning we aim to produce models that describe how yields and other services vary across agro-ecological conditions. b. Modelling the performance of existing agri-systems under future climate scenarios to identify trends (i.e. climate resilient and susceptible agri-system combinations). c. Modelling the projected performance of novel crop combinations (i.e. novel agri-system combinations) under climate change. 5) Quantification of ecosystem service provision under: a. A gradient of decreasing species and genetic diversity, but consistent presence of perennial woody plants b. A gradient of intensive perennial to dominance of annual/biennial crop production 6) Genome-wide marker-dense analysis of ten key species from across the domestication spectrum, to deliver: a. High-confidence phylogenetic characterization of identity and patterns of relatedness among and within Ethiopian crop cultivars and, where relevant, wild populations. b. Analysis of genome-wide neutral and adaptive genomic variation, permitting evaluation of diversity at the landscape, species and cultivar level in the agri-systems c. Genome-environment association analysis (GEA) of at least three species, providing precise assessments of adaptation of different genotypes within species to different environmental variables. Enabling us to estimate how well adapted that genotype would be under projected future climatic conditions, or, crucially, where in the region that genotype might be better suited. d. Development of a reproducible pipeline/package to facilitate the impact of GEA analysis among related academic beneficiaries. With 20 million people in the Southern region relying on food and resource provisioning from agriculture, of which 75% are farmers, it is anticipated that this research will have significant near-term impact.
|Extending:||UK Research & Innovation|
|Funding:||UK - Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy|
|Implementing:||Royal Botanic Gardens Kew|
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