Are agricultural researchers working on the right crops to enable food and nutrition security under future climates?
This study in the Global Environmental Change Journal examined how crop-specific agricultural research investments can be prioritised to anticipate climate change impact on crops and to enable the production of more nutritious food. The authors used a simple crop modelling approach to derive expected future changes in regional climate suitability for crops. To determine if different starch-rich and pulse crops are currently underresearched or overresearched, they examined the global relation between crop-specific research output (number of publications) and the total nutrient output available for human consumption. The analysis shows that current research investments are mostly associated with the current energy output of crops. Other things equal, investment levels tend to be slightly lower for crops better adapted to future climates and tend to decrease as crop nutrient richness increases. Among starch-rich crops, maize, barley, and rice receive substantially more research investment than justified by their current nutrient output. Sweetpotato, potato, and wheat show substantial current research deficits. Sweetpotato is most strongly underresearched in regions with improving climate suitability. For potato, research deficits occur in regions where these crops will experience less suitable climate conditions. For wheat, the deficits are distributed equally across regions with negative and positive climate effects. Three crops are significantly over-researched, namely maize, rice, and barley. Among pulses, cowpea, and lupin are generally overresearched. Common bean is highly underresearched, but these deficits concentrate in areas where it will likely suffer from climate change. Lentil, broad bean, and chickpea are underresearched, with deficits concentrating in regions where these crops will tend to benefit from future climates. Agricultural research investment allocations will need to consider additional factors not taken into account in this study, but the findings suggest that current allocations need reconsideration to support climate adaptation and enhance healthy human nutrition.