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Using 'Smart Seeds' to Overcome Climate Change

Southern Africa is undergoing the worst drought in more than three decades. More than 30 million people in South Africa, Malawi, and my home country Zimbabwe are facing hunger. While this year's drought is largely attributed to the El Nino effect, rains have been increasingly erratic over the past two decades. This could be the new normal as climate change models forecast less rainfall and more extreme weather for much of East and Southern Africa. Moreover, experts project that we may be entering a time of global weather uncertainty, or a "dark age".

Recently I have seen numerous images of smallholder farmers standing helplessly next to wilted crops, dying cattle, and sun-scorched earth. Having grown up on a small farm in rural Zimbabwe, I know full well how mother nature can destroy livelihoods for one of the world's most vulnerable populations - smallholder farmers. I also recognise the look on many of those farmers' faces: helplessness.

Yet, the narrative does not always have to end badly. Plant breeders, working through publicly funded research institutes, are developing new crop varieties with traits that allow them to withstand extreme weather - and not just drought, but also flooding, and frost. People like me who work in agriculture call them "climate-smart" crops, because they offer a fast and affordable way for farmers to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

Swathi Sridharan

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