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Minister sees genomic tech as way forward as Cyprus braces for rising temperatures

xenophontos at genebecon, agriculture minister
Agriculture Minister Xenophontos speaking at the GeneBEcon symposium

Mean temperatures for summer days in Cyprus are set to exceed 38 degrees C in the coming decades, and summers will last longer by two weeks, Agriculture Minister Petros Xenophontos said on Friday.

Commenting the climate change conditions that will affect Cyprus, the minister said: “Looking at the CyI [Cyprus Institute] models for Cyprus in greater details, especially the period from 2020 to 2050, one of the most striking results is an increase in extremely hot summer days with maximum temperatures exceeding 38C for an additional two weeks per year compared to the already quite warm summers we are used to.”

Speaking at the Science-Policy Symposium organised by the Cyprus Institute, he added that it is expected for Cyprus to experience warm tropical nights with minimum temperatures rising above 25C for an additional month compared to current conditions.

“By the end of the century the number of hot days per year in Nicosia will increase by two months, resembling conditions currently experienced in places like Cairo or Bahrain,” he said.

He added that his ministry has the lead in the implementation of the adaptation strategy to climate change, which is currently under revision to address the new information available from recent research.

According to the minister, to respond to the adverse effects of these scenarios, for agricultural production, there is a need to optimise the climate-smart and resilient agricultural practices and technology for sustainable productivity.

“We admit that even though Cyprus has always been wary of genetically modified organisms, raising concerns regarding their adequate safety for human and animal health, we now believe, maintaining our initial reservations, that the use of New Genomic Techniques in agriculture can be beneficial to the EU, if used correctly,” he said.

The minister then spoke about several genomic techniques that could be used to assist agricultural practices in Cyprus, to make crops more resilient to the effects of climate change.

“These techniques help in developing more resilient crops and livestock, improving agricultural practices, and ensuring food security in the face of changing climate conditions,” he said.

The minister said that genomic-assisted breeding techniques, such as marker assisted selection (MAS), are used to develop crop varieties that are better adapted to climate change. These varieties can be developed for traits such as drought and heat tolerance, pest resistance, and improved nutrient uptake.

“The recently awarded Nobel prize for the genome editing CRISPR-Cas9 technology proved that precision modifications could be performed, and the results are impressive. New varieties with selected traits could be designed and produced in short time and released to the farmers when requested,” he said.

Regarding concerns about these techniques, Xenophontos said that to address concerns, it is crucial to have robust regulatory frameworks, transparent labelling, rigorous risk assessments, and ongoing research to monitor the long-term impacts of genomic techniques in food supply.

He added that fostering dialogue among stakeholders, including scientists, farmers, policymakers, and consumers, is essential to ensure that the benefits of these technologies are realised while minimising potential risks.

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