Bioversity International: research for development in agricultural and tree biodiversity

Action plan promotes neglected and underutilized species as strategic assets for food security

30 Apr 2014

The 3rd International Conference on Neglected and Underutilized Species – for a food-secure Africa resulted in a nine-point action plan to realize the promise of neglected and underutilized species- published this week.

The conference, held in September 2013, drew attention to the need to promote neglected and underutilized species to help tackle global challenges such as poverty, malnutrition and climate change. It also recognized the need for supportive policy frameworks at the national, regional and global levels. 

Many communities around the world depend on traditional food species for food and income or prefer them for cultural, culinary or cultivation reasons. These species are often better adapted than their staple crop counterparts to grow in marginal areas, with less need for irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers. They can also be highly nutritious — for example, many African leafy vegetables are good sources of micronutrients.

These species have habitually fallen outside the narrow range of staple crops and commodities that dominate agricultural and food policies —sometimes referred to as ‘orphan crops’ because the lack of attention by mainstream research and development programmes means their potential value is underestimated and underexploited. But increasingly this is changing as food and agriculture experts look to options to combat the effects of climate change, improve nutrition and sustain livelihoods for farm households and rural communities.

The Accra conference, attended by 176 participants from 36 countries, shared research results and debated policy issues around three themes: the resilience of agricultural and livelihood systems; developing value chains; and creating an enabling policy environment.

The conference resulted in the statement for a food-secure Africa as well as a brief to raise awareness and drive action for neglected and underutilized species — awareness and action that goes beyond Africa. The policy brief is available in 3 language versions (English, French and Portuguese).

Speaking in Accra, Dr Yakubu Alhassan, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture emphasized the importance of traditional crops as strategic assets in fighting Africa’s challenges of food insecurity, climate change and poverty, pointing out that the promotion of these crops would require “funding to support all activities across the entire value chain, from the farm to the table.”

The Accra statement and brief for a food-secure Africa sets out nine action points:

  • Include neglected and underutilized species in national and international strategies and frameworks that address global issues
  • Establish a list of priority neglected and underutilized species on which to focus research and development 
  • Support research on neglected and underutilized species and their agronomic, environmental, nutritional and socioeconomic contributions to resilient production systems
  • Support the development of value chains and small agri-businesses for neglected and underutilized species
  • Strengthen collaboration and information-sharing between researchers, extension specialists, the private sector, farmers and their organizations
  • Promote the cultivation of neglected and underutilized species through campaigns to raise awareness of the commercial opportunities they offer and their agronomic and nutritional benefits
  • Increase support for conservation of neglected and underutilized species in situ, on farm and ex situ, and strengthen seed systems
  • Empower custodian farmers, and support farmers’ rights to share the benefits from neglected and underutilized species
  • Strengthen the capacity of individuals and organizations in research, education and development of neglected and underutilized species

The Accra Statement and related documents such as the 2012 Cordoba declaration will be used for further policy, advocacy, and research and development initiatives that help diversify agricultural systems for food security in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

Work is already underway. A new initiative is developing value chains in Benin, Kenya and Zimbabwe for two underutilized crops — Bambara groundnut and amaranth — which similarly points out opportunities presented by neglected and underutilized species, Bioversity International and its partners, conference participants and other stakeholders will use the Accra statement to inform research and development programmes and policies to help diversify agriculture in Africa. Over the next three years the initiative will strengthen capacity for upgrading value chains, reviewing university curricula and ensure that policymakers are aware of the value and potential of these crops.

This work contributes to the CGIAR Research Programs on Policies, Institutes and Markets and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

*Supported by the European Union and the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific Science and Technology Programme.

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