As the world continues to fight against the climate crisis, innovators continue to look for creative ways to make the future more sustainable.

Agriculture is just one area that has been under the microscope, with researchers and start-ups developing innovative ways to make the sector more sustainable. For example, Irish agritech company MagGrow raised €6m for crop-spraying tech last August.

Now, a new Horizon 2020 project is focusing on using underutilised crops to promote agrobiodiversity. A European consortium led by researchers from the Catholic University of Portugal has secured more than €7m in funding for this project, Radiant.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Limerick are among the consortium, which aims to promote the wider use of underutilised crops by showcasing a network of agrobiodiversity farms across Europe, where best practices in land management and smart marketing are embedded to promote improved agronomy and breeding that capitalises on native biodiversity.
According to Mike Williams, assistant professor in botany at Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, of the 50,000 plant species that are edible, only 150 to 200 are consumed.

“Add to this the significant loss in genetic diversity of crop plants that has occurred over the last hundred years – 75pc – and it is clear that present-day crop production systems rely on both a small number of plant species and a limited collection of varieties/cultivars,” he said.

“Opposite to this trend, increasing agricultural biodiversity is key to the provision of food and our nutritional and economic security, particularly to small farms and rural communities in Europe. This project, by focusing on underutilised crops, will facilitate development and showcasing of farms, management systems and dynamic value chains that promote agrobiodiversity.”

Trinity’s researchers will focus on quantifying multifunctional traits for underutilised crops within a life cycle assessment framework, to benchmark these crops and their dynamic value chains against industrialised crops.

Jenny Darmody

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