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Research and policy for orphan crops

Many NUS crops are well suited to marginal environments and resilient to climate extremes (© Bioversity International/D Astudillo)
Many NUS crops are well suited to marginal environments and resilient to climate extremes
© Bioversity International/D Astudillo

From grains and fruit to vegetables and nuts, so-called orphan crops are often the bedrock of small farm output, well suited to marginal environments and adaptable to changing conditions. As such, they have a vital role to play in boosting the resilience of fragile farming systems and sustainably improving livelihoods, and are currently attracting considerable interest as part of a holistic approach to fight poverty and malnutrition.

In September 2013, Ghana hosted the 3rd International Conference on Neglected and Underutilised Species (NUS) - a conference organised by Bioversity International, the International Foundation for Science (IFS), Ghana's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Crops for the Future (CFF). The delegates - from the research, development, private sector and policy making communities - discussed the role of NUS in African food security under three themes: resilience in agriculture and livelihood systems; upgrading NUS value chains; and creating an enabling environment. Many also offered New Agriculturist their opinions on a number of key questions.

Policy and development priorities for improved use of NUS

Looking at the entire commodity chain right from the start is key to any improved use of NUS, from the genetic resources through breeding, improvement of production techniques, to harvesting and post-harvest technologies and marketing. These very different activities should be addressed in a collaborative manner by all stakeholders involved.
Frank Begemann, German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE)

There is need to create new regulatory procedures or adapt existing ones to the use of NUS as a specific part of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), organise, based on this framework, an operational platform committed to NUS, and involve all the stakeholders, including farmers, in the implementation of such a platform and its regulatory procedures.
Edmond Koofi, National Centre for Agronomic Research (CNRA), Côte d'Ivoire

Governments should pass laws making it mandatory for meals prepared for the school-feeding programs to consist of certain nutritious NUS. This will open ready markets and consequently encourage more people to cultivate those NUS. There also needs to be awareness and collaboration among relevant ministries, such as agriculture, health and environment.
Anankware Paarechuga Jacob, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

Using traditional fruits and vegetables in school meals can contribute to improved nutrition in young children (© Bioversity International/S Mann)
Using traditional fruits and vegetables in school meals can contribute to improved nutrition in young children
© Bioversity International/S Mann

In the mapping out of the policy frameworks at global level, it is important for us to also look at the regional policy frameworks which we can then mobilise at national level. I think there is a great potential for NUS crops to be exported across our regions as we share many similarities in crops and diets. Before we think internationally, we should think about regional trade as this is not so competitive and we don't have the standard issues of exporting to the EU.
Ambassador Mary Mubi, Permanent Representative to FAO, Zimbabwe

As Africa pushes ahead with its development agenda, we should not neglect to propagate our traditional species. We need to enhance the visibility of NUS and pursue commercialisation by developing value chains.
Yemi Akinbamijo, Director General, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)

How to convince policymakers of the importance of NUS?

African policymakers need to be carried along and engaged in the identification, preparation, design and implementation of programmes and policies on NUS. This will enable them to understand these NUS in terms of their ecology, versatility and the important role they play in supporting the livelihood of households, especially those living in rural communities.
Isaac Busayo Oluwatayo, University of Limpopo, South Africa

There is an African proverb: 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.' We have to ask ourselves, do we want to go fast or far? In Kenya we did a priority setting for NUS through KARI, including all stakeholders up to policymakers. We came up with a priority list and we already have action plans. It means we won't neglect the other crops but we can make a better start on the ones we have identified.
Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya

We should remind the policymakers that some of their relatives in the rural areas have their source of nutrition from these species that are fading out, hence the need for increased cultivation.
Ikootobong Sunday Urua, University of Calabar, Nigeria

African finger millet  thrives in harsh conditions (© Bioversity International/Y Wachira)
African finger millet thrives in harsh conditions
© Bioversity International/Y Wachira

Providing evidence on the importance of NUS is paramount to getting policymakers on board. These are crops that are highly relevant to local populations who don't neglect them at all. The intense monoculture and standardisation affecting mainstream agriculture has marginalised these resources and made them irrelevant in national and international research agendas. The current attention of governments on building more resilient production and food systems represents a great momentum to bring NUS into the spotlight.
Stefano Padulosi, Bioversity International, Italy

Policymakers in Africa work differently, and I feel that it will take personal-based lobbying to convince them of the importance by organising exposure visits to success stories using NUS. Research and publication is important but not a good lobby tool. A more direct approach with exposure and experience sharing is a better alternative.
Sarah Tewolde-Berhan, University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway

African policymakers have a 'comprehensive language' dealing with food security, health, jobs and economy that needs to be understood by researchers. To allow policymakers to understand what's going on with NUS, researchers must speak this language, by evidencing outcomes related to NUS in terms of solutions to food security, health, jobs and economy. In this way, policymakers will understand the importance of NUS.
Edmond Koofi, CNRA

How to promote multi-disciplinary research?

The best way to encourage researchers is to provide funding for all projects working on NUS and creating a great network between researchers from all disciplines. Agriculturalists should collaborate with botanists, pharmacists, dieticians, and economics and social scientist to scrutinise information on the role that these crops play. Once we have funding agencies willing to work on NUS, they should make it compulsory that projects include researchers from different disciplines.
Keletso Cecilia Mohale, Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa

Funders can encourage researchers to form a team from different research areas like food technologists, agronomists and different countries, and indicate their contributions to set projects. An example is the formation of collaborative research teams by IFS.
Linda Dari, University for Development Studies, Ghana

Research on NUS is critical (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Research on NUS is critical
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Researchers from different disciplines can be encouraged to work together on NUS through provision of research grants and avenues in the form of multi-method research workshops and seminars on NUS priority areas. This will provide a platform for experience sharing, networking and possible collaborations among researchers from allied or different disciplines.
Isaac Busayo Oluwatayo, University of Limpopo

This is really a critical aspect and could be promoted in many ways, including: approving project proposals or new programmes only if they adopt inter-disciplinary approaches; strengthening existing inter-disciplinary R&D fora at both national and international level; or developing multi-disciplinary curricula in agricultural universities.
Stefano Padulosi, Bioversity International

There is need for regional collaborative research grants on NUS that have great potential in the region. Participatory on-farm research activities should be encouraged to help create awareness of NUS in the regions.
Oliver O. Emenalom, Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria

Importance of partnership

Partnership is a prerequisite to safeguard NUS. No single organisation can effectively address all the research and development needs with regards to NUS.
Raymond Vodouhe, Bioversity International, Italy

I think that a lot of research into underutilised plants in Africa has been very esoteric; it has been not really grounded in commercial reality. My biggest tip to researchers would be to try to link themselves preferably to the private sector, to private sector operators who are actually going to take their research and translate it into something practical. Otherwise it is just going to end up on a shelf somewhere and it is not going to do any good.
Gus Le Breton, Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe

Most of the time we don't communicate, we just take turns talking. We have to respect the role of indigenous knowledge and we have to go beyond the normal. Many of our African resources remain untapped because we lack information on their potential. What we don't know, we don't conserve.
Yemi Akinbamijo, Director General, FARA

Indigenous knowledge of NUS needs to be respected (© Bioversity International/Y Wachira)
Indigenous knowledge of NUS needs to be respected
© Bioversity International/Y Wachira

Researchers should learn to move out of their comfort zones, such as laboratories, and create partnerships with governmental and non-governmental organisations. Again, they should conduct participatory research, wherein communities and farmers can contribute and exchange their knowledge with the scientific community.
Keletso Cecilia Mohale, Tshwane University of Technology

The biggest gaps in most developing countries' education and research institutions are resources, and platforms for collaboration and publication, which create opportunities for funding. Promotion of multi-disciplinary work done on NUS will go a long way to encourage this. In addition, it is important to gain longer term funding for research to ensure its success, rather than the 2-3 year work, that is left un-established and collapses when funding ends.
Sarah Tewolde-Berhan, University of Life Sciences

Date published: November 2013

 

Have your say

Yes we are as developing countries, we need such researches.... (posted by: Ali salem shreidi)

 

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