Project launched to promote growing of neglected crops in Africa

amaranthgrown1Long labelled as minor and famine crops, Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS) that include vegetables are now turning out to be Africa’s savior for food insecurity and adverse climate change.

After putting up a struggle for many years in emphasizing the consumption of conventional species of crops and vegetables, scientist have now seen NUS as a biological reserve for future food, medicine, spices, cosmetic products and ornamental plants.

“We have put in place a joint project that targets to promote the growing and consumption of the crops in all parts of the continent,” the project coordinator Mr. Per Rudbjer revealed.

He said that there is international recognition that agricultural systems need to diversify and that NUS play a role in providing food and nutritional security, income for smallholder farmers, and a tool for adapting agricultural systems to climate change.

He observed that the Euros 1.16 million project, that is funded by the European Union aims to build capacities and to foster an enabling policy environment in Africa for the development of enhanced value chains.

“We have chosen to promote amaranth and Bambara groundnuts, the two species that are popular with populations in Eastern and Western Africa respectively,” he added.

Africa hosts thousands of edible plants, but only a small number dominate agriculture, except for a few farmers, especially in marginal areas who rely on NUS for their livelihoods.

The genetic diversity of NUS and their wild relatives comprises a major part of agro-biodiversity, but is in rapid decline and their potential is often overlooked.

Worldwide, farmers are abandoning them as globalization, population growth and urbanization change agricultural and food systems.

Rudbjer said that the project has already looked at the constraints and is already engaged in awareness creation and also educating the farmers on value addition on two crops.

A reserve for genes that could become solutions to some of the challenges we face today, such as vulnerability to diseases, drought etc.

“These naturally resilient crops are capable of mitigating and adapting to climate change and are effective in curbing both food insecurity, hidden hunger and improving diets which are too rich in refined carbohydrates and fats,” he added.

However, the expansion and commercialization of NUS are constrained by a low knowledge base, weak value chains and inadequate capacity and policies.

The project ‘Strengthening capacities and informing policies for developing value chains of neglected and underutilized crops in Africa’ for NUS that contribute to improved food and nutritional security, income, and mitigation of climatic, agronomic and economic risks.

According to Professor Alexandre Dansi of the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin NUS empower women, who are often the main producers, processors and traders of these resources.

He noted that the crops have high medicinal values and can help in treating and preventing numerous diseases.

“There is need to enhance on-farm NUS conservation, develop quality market value-added products and promote them in agricultural diversification programs,” he Professor Dansi added.

According to Dr. Cris Muyunda, an agricultural expert, agriculture in Africa must now be done as a business whereby farmers are taught how to add value to their products to attract good pay and also help save lives of people who dies from hunger and malnutrition.

“There is need to allocate funds for the production of NUS in the continent since their viability is evidenced,’ he added.

The project is supported by the ACP Science and Technology Program and the International Foundation for Science.

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