27 September 2013, Accra – Stakeholders in agriculture are meeting in Accra on a three-day international conference to discuss research into neglected and underutilized crop species and their potential contribution to food and nutrition security in Africa.
“Neglected and Underutilized species (NUS) are crops, which are important in local consumption and production systems,” declared the Ghana Minister of Food and Agriculture, Hon. Mr. Clement Kofi Humado, in his opening keynote address. “They form an integral part of local culture, and are present in traditional food preparations.”
Hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Bioversity International, the Third International Conference on Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS): for a Food-Secure Africa aims to develop an action plan for strengthening research capacity in neglected and underutilized crop species (NUS) across Africa within a collaborative framework with advanced research agencies around the world, and a milestone-driven agenda for the promotion of NUS in Africa involving key stakeholders including policy makers.
Over reliance on very few crop species
According to FAO, more than 7000 plant species have been gathered and cultivated since people first learned to do so many millennia ago. And there are as many as 30 000 edible terrestrial plant species in the world. However, the world relies on very few crop species. “The world food system relies on 20 or so major staples, and only three species – rice, wheat and maize - account for more than half of humanity's energy supply”, said Dr. Lamourdia Thiombiano, Officer in Charge of the FAO Regional office for Africa in his statement to the delegates. “In many regions of the world, very little attention is given to a wide range of species the so-called neglected and underutilized which are equally important to food security and nutrition and improved livelihoods”.
While research has established the health benefits derived from the consumption of many African underutilized fruits and vegetables, in practice only a small number of crop species have been promoted and traded. Research in the field of neglected and underutilized crops has increased over the past 20 years, but much of that work has been scattered and disconnected. Hundreds of local and high value indigenous crops continue to be largely ignored by researchers, policy makers and development agencies.
Focus of the conference
The sub-themes of the three-day conference are Resilience of agricultural and livelihood systems, Upgrading value chains of neglected and underutilized species, and Creating an enabling policy environment for the enhanced utilization of neglected and underutilized species. Conference participants include researchers, organizations which finance research, and other stakeholders in NUS value chains including those involved in production, value-addition, policy-making, financing, managing, education and training, and extension services in agriculture, nutrition and industry.