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The University of Southampton

Crops for the future: major international debate takes place in UK

Published: 23 August 2007

The need for new and underutilised crops in a rapidly changing world of global warming and population growth will be discussed at the 5th International Symposium on New Crops and Uses, hosted by the University of Southampton (Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 September).

The event has been organised by the University’s Centre for Underutilised Crops (CUC) in partnership with the National Non Food Crop Centre and the Tropical Agricultural Association.

The first International Symposium on New Crops was held at the University of Southampton exactly 20 years ago and as a result of the recommendations of this meeting, the CUC was established at the University in 1988.

Participants from 28 countries from across the developing and developed world will meet to discuss the sustainable use of new crops in a changing environment for both food and non-food uses.

There has been relatively little scientific or economic interest in new and underutilised crops over the past 30 years, with most attention and funding focused on improving the few species on which the world's population increasingly depends to feed itself.

However, the situation is now changing rapidly with global warming’s negative impact on the production and productivity of these major crops, population growth continuing towards its projected peak of 10 billion and the recognition that increasingly energy and raw materials must come from renewable sources.

Dr Colm Bowe, of the University’s Centre for Underutilised Crops, says: "In practice, much of the land that is used for cultivation is not suited for production of the current few crops on which we depend, and there is a growing awareness of the need for both diversity and novelty within the agricultural system. Further, with an estimated 20 per cent of the world's food, along with many medicinal, energy and industrial resources, coming from traditional farming sources, the opportunity exists to build on the sustainable best practices of these traditional farmers, many of whom are not growing the major crops.

"It is in this context that new and underutilised crops are at last – after years of being in the wilderness – coming into their own. This is, therefore, an ideal time to take stock of where those scientists, farmers and others who are interested in new and underutilised crops have got to, how we got here, what lessons have been learned, what are the pressing and practical requirements of mankind in the coming years and how can we respond to that need."

The conference will be held over five sessions of oral presentations (36 presentations) and poster presentations (35 posters). The keynote after-dinner talk will be given by Professor Monique Simmonds, Deputy Keeper and Head of Sustainable Uses of Plants Group at the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew.

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