Value chains play a fundamental role for the diffusion and promotion of crop species. Effective value chains can increase the presence of a crop in markets and enable farmers to earn reliable incomes, which encourages continued production and supply. The value chains for many crops are unfortunately poorly developed, which limits their potential to benefit farmers and consumers.
This is the case for fonio (Digitaria exilis) and Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea), both native crops of West Africa that are well adapted to the climate of Sahel. Fonio may be the oldest cereal cultivated in Africa, while Bambara groundnut is a protein rich crop that was largely displaced from West African production systems when peanut was introduced from the Americas. Compared to other crops, these species require fewer external inputs and provide a greater quantity of essential nutrients and minerals, fundamental for people’s health.
Weak value chain development is partly a result of the narrow focus of agricultural research and development, which has neglected many local crops important in traditional food systems. Overcoming weaknesses in marketing these crops requires attention to enhance their processing, trading, marketing and retailing, which can in turn help leverage their benefits for strengthening food security, alleviating poverty, and increasing the resilience and sustainability of farming systems in face of climate change.
Bioversity International and the Institute of Rural Economy (IER) have been working to promote value chain development of fonio and Bambara groundnut in Mali through 'Linking agrobiodiversity value chains, climate adaptation and nutrition: Empowering the poor to manage risk', a project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the European Commission that is currently in its fourth and final year of implementation. Detailed value chain assessments were carried out in 2017 by Charlie Mbosso, Market and Gender Specialist, Bioversity International.
This March, stakeholders identified along the value chains were invited to crop-specific meetings to share back results of the value chain studies and discuss ways forward to overcome challenges for production, marketing and consumption of these crops.
More than a hundred stakeholders – such as farmers, traders, restaurateurs, journalists and representatives from NGOs, government bodies, farmer’s groups and cooperatives – took part in these meetings. They engaged in stimulating, and at times passionate, discussions on how to increase consumers’ demand and improve cultivation of fonio and Bambara groundnut in Mali. The groups were challenged to develop innovative solutions to the identified bottlenecks.
Each crop presents peculiar challenges and opportunities: a message that clearly emerged during the meetings. In the case of fonio, harvesting and especially processing are time-consuming and problematic. Cleaning and sand removal are complicated by the small dimensions of fonio grains, which need to undergo long processing. The cleaned and polished fonio – while more attractive to consumers – is however poorer in micronutrients and dietary fibre due to the removal of the outer part of the cereal. Small producers also face difficulties in linking to a disorganized market. The price farmers receive is too low to motivate them to produce and sell fonio, while the final price is too high for most consumers to access processed fonio.