© Robin Stott
© Robin Stott

Researchers revive ancient crops to encourage diversity

Farmers who grow single crops are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but now researchers are reviving ancient crop varieties to encourage diversity and offset the risks of extreme weather.

Intensively growing single crops for commercial purposes is the most common farming practice in Europe. These so-called ‘cash crops’ include corn and wheat and they depend on stable weather to get a good harvest.

Professor Sven-Erik Jacobsen from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, said: “With climate change we will see much more drought in different places of the world, especially in the Mediterranean region, and large parts of Africa.

“Even in north Europe we will see more drought and heavier rainfalls.”

An unusually hot or wet period could devastate harvests of traditional crops, but species originating in warmer climates could serve as a solution to European farmers under threat.

EU-funded project PROTEIN2FOOD, aims to explore ancient crops and legumes to help make modern agriculture more sustainable.

Project co-ordinator Jacobsen, said: “These crops could be the answer to the climate change effects that we will experience more and more.

“We grow in the north, south, east and west of Europe and are learning about what we can grow in different places.”

The researchers are focusing on three species of high protein quality – quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat – as well as legumes like pea, faba bean and lupin, chosen due to potential yield and desirable taste.

PROTEIN2FOOD is developing dairy alternatives using lupins for making cream and it is also looking to make vegetable patties with better textures and taste, as well as high protein breakfast cereals and snacks, protein bars, beverages and infant foods.

Jacobsen added: “In the end we will have advice for farmers on how to grow these crops (as an alternative to farming meat) and what the industry can do to sell products to the consumer.”