Agricultural food production is both affected by and contributing to climate change. At the global scale, agri-food systems are responsible for one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions. With progressing climate change, the risks of crop failure increase. Thus, an urgent need is to reduce emissions from food systems while increasing their resilience to climate change. Enormous untapped potentials to achieve these dual goals lie in transforming agri-food systems towards more diverse, plant-based, and regional food production systems.
In this paper, we present an innovative approach for identifying climate-adapted alternative food crops that could (1) help to diversify existing cropping systems and thus increase their climate resilience and can be (2) nutritious elements of plant-based regional diets with reduced emissions.
The approach builds on the model ecocrop to select food crops that could benefit from regionally projected changes in climate. The model-based analysis is complemented with a literature review to examine the ecocrop results for their plausibility and provide a broader assessment of potentials for cultivation, utilization, and nutritional values of model-selected crops.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
The approach is applied to Switzerland, where we identify eight alternative crops with the potential to increase climate resilience while contributing to healthy human diets of regional consumers with benefits for climate mitigation (almond, pecan, sesame, durum wheat, quinoa, lentil, lupine, and borage). The literature review indicated that the increasing demand for many of these crops suggests great potential for regional marketing of crop products. The results produced in this study provide an initial guide for researchers and innovative farmers interested in experimenting with alternative crops in Switzerland, thus promoting climate-smart food system transformation from the production side.
Using our unbiased bottom-up screening approach, we identified climate-adapted alternative crops that can provide essential nutrients, cover nutritional gaps in Switzerland, diversify existing production systems, and improve sustainability.