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* Director, Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, Rome, Italy.
“Alternative Crops and Cultivars for New Opportunities” is one of the Programme Entities/Projects of the Crop and Grassland Service of the Plant Production and Protection Division of FAO. There are about 150 crop species which have already received attention from breeders and commerce and have evolved through human intervention into widely cultivated species. Of these, 10-15 produce half of the world's food and materials. This evolution is, understandably, led by the nations with the most resources and is basically for their own and more stable high input and often subsidized systems. Novel technologies in emerging crops, cultivars, protected agriculture and cropping systems need to be made available to and tested in developing countries, where farmers have a need for stabilization of their specific agro-environments, particularly through establishment of suitable species and high-value cultivars with food, feed, fuel, fibre and pharmacological potential. The identification of alternative crops and improved technologies would aim at providing a comparative advantage within a given agro-ecological and socio-economic context. Sustainable intensification of agriculture without further degradation of natural resources remains a challenge.

Risk reduction through diversification (related to climatic and biotic vagaries, particularly in fragile ecosystems and commodity fluctuations) by expanding locally adapted or introducing novel varieties and related production systems, will contribute to improved food security and income generation for resource poor farmers and protect the environment. Small family farms will not be able to increase their total income to acceptable levels with the production of staple food crops as these are invariably of low value for the farmer/producer. To increase income the farmer needs a higher value product that can be obtained by adding value to primary or secondary products. Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, flavourings, natural colourants, medicinal plants and others all offer an opportunity for farmers to produce higher value products. Nevertheless, introducing new crops on their own is unlikely to be successful as the whole technological and commercial package needs to be introduced at the same time. Hence, this technical project is based on the introduction of alternative crops with production, processing, marketing technology and nutritional information. The project is closely related to the Special Programme on Food Security as 80 percent of the world's poor live in fragile ecosystems. FAO's multidisciplinary approach and global networking capacity can identify and match new crops and novel cultivars and their production systems to targeted isozones and their peoples for both extensive and intensive applications. A continuing review of technology advance in existing and “new” crops is a pre-requisite and has to be based both on indigenous and international knowledge.

The objective of the Project is the broadening of the crop and cultivar knowledge base for better use of the plant density in support of crop diversification options into targeted eco-zones in relation to food and income security targets and market opportunities.

The major outputs are:

- Integration of fragmented knowledge on lesser-known plants with localized and/or international potential as crops.

- Assessment and promotion of high-value crops for distinct agro-ecological environments.

- Introduction to and expansion of palms to Africa.

- Technology transfer for integrated greenhouse crop production and protection management.

Integration of Fragmented Knowledge on Lesser-Known Plants with Localized and/or International Potential as Crops

FAO receives many requests for multidisciplinary information on plant species or novel cultivars for which data exists but is scarce and globally fragmented amongst ethnobotanical observations, publications, institutions, private enterprise and networks in general, including the Internet. This global plant resource is under threat from population pressure and other poverty-related interventions causing habitat destruction and excessive wild harvesting. A narrow major crop base exists in environments often unsuitable to the approximately 150 widely cultivated species developed for 'commercial' environments. This major output will harness knowledge on lesser-known species and their environmental requirements, which will help local institutions to decide on diversification for income stability, food security and environmental stabilization.

FAO's multidisciplinary approach and global networking capacity can identify species contacts and integrate scattered information into an ecologically-related knowledge processing system to better respond to member's and other's requests. Information including illustrations, references, contacts, specific methodologies and glossary terms will be gathered from publications, institutions and individuals and collated into species monographs to be delivered through the Internet, via CD-ROMs and hard-copy downloads. Specifically the output will consist of:

· EcoPort and other knowledge and training management systems developed to target plant species adapted to fragile environments; publications on novel crops and novel varieties of established crops.

· Description of Good Agricultural Practices for introduction of new species.

· Species-related training tool on crop production, sustainable utilization and benefits.

· Networks umbrellaed and participation in network meetings.

The Effects of Major Outputs will be:
· Easier access to species-specific and structured information presently not covered by other organizations or institutes resulting in better crop management.

· Potential for crop base broadening for food security and income generation in fragile ecologies identified.

· Broader knowledge on use of the species and its products increase in networking partners and knowledge gathering.

The Indicators of Achieving Major Output Effects will be:
· Amount of fragmented information and training material on ecozone adapted species or varieties collected, structured, requested and delivered through the Internet, CD ROMs, FAOR download and hard copy publication and distribution.

· Number of species described.

· Number of partners working on specific species.

Assessment and Promotion of High-value Crops for Distinct Agro-Ecological Environments

Within new opportunities, which derive from trade liberalization (GATT Agreement) assistance will be provided to member countries to explore the comparative advantage for developing emerging and high-value horticulture and industrial and specialty crops in accordance to their agro-ecological potential and socio-economic interest. The aim is to achieve the full agronomic and economic potential to meet the changing needs of producers and consumers. Information will be collated and disseminated on the origin and propagation of high quality planting materials and their agronomic performance under distinct agro-ecologies and cropping systems. The advantage of selective high quality produce including “bio-labeled” products will be explored to address specific market niches. Special attention will be given to fostering inter-country cooperation and networking amongst scientific institutions with the aim of facilitating coordinated research and development initiatives and to eventually complement the requirements for those crops, which are presently not dealt with by the CGIAR. In this context, priority will be given to principal emerging crops or new cultivars as diversification options for small-scale farmers and commercial-scale initiatives based on out-growers schemes eventually through technology transfer.

The Effects of the Major Output will be:

· Strengthening of on-going sub-regional, regional and global networking among scientific institutions and other partners.

· Improved knowledge and better use of plant bio-diversity towards diversification and use of lesser known crops and cultivars with required agronomic and quality traits for local markets and export opportunities.

· Governments and private sector awareness of the potential for high-value and promising horticultural and industrial crops as a contribution to the global food security strategy.

· Information on high-value crops and cultivars accessible through information materials and database.

The Indicators of Achieving Major Output Effects are:
· Expansion of new crops and cultivars in selective agro-ecological areas.

· On-going cooperative research and development initiatives.

· Commercial and small-scale farmers have adopted new crops species and cultivars as a diversification option.

· Database and information material accessed/consulted.

Introduction to and Expansion of Palms in Africa

Semi-arid (including long dry season) regions are often subject to total loss of annual crops through drought or concentrated rains. These crops demand constant soil disturbance in their cultivation, leading to environmental degradation. The establishment of palm species adapted to specific agro-ecological conditions would help to alleviate such fluctuations and help to protect annual crops and to maintain ecological stability. This, in turn, would help in the establishment of a more balanced generic floric and faunic system; vital in sustainable Integrated Crop Management. Palms are prime candidates for income generation, food security and biodiversity enhancement through environmental stabilization, particularly in semi-arid and sub-humid areas. The major and long-term results will fix rural populations in their environment. Medium-term benefits will establish pilot projects upon which institutions can extrapolate to similar ecologies and procure additional funding for expansion.

Through globally integrated networks, including CG centers, FAO can readily identify opportunities for transfer of technology on palm species potentially adapted to the target environments. AGPC has a proven record of success in technology transfer related to this major output (dates and oil palm) which can be expanded to similar edaphoclimatic conditions and with new introductions to these and other environments. Regular Programme pilot establishment projects will lead to funding from TCP and/or donor and commercial participation. Specifically the major output will consist of:

· Descriptions of the species, products and agro-ecological requirements.
· Exchange of information on cultivation techniques.
· An umbrella of related palm networks.
· Pilot introduction or expansion tests.
The Effects of the Major Output will be the following:

Results of pilot projects and provision of technical information will demonstrate the potential for perennial crop base broadening for food security and income generation in fragile ecologies. It will catalyze the use of palms in perennial/annual crop systems and, in the long-term, enhance environmental protection.

The Indicators of Achieving Major Output Effects are:

· Community uptake of transferred technology, requests for expansion.
· Degree of government, donor or private industry involvement.
Technology Transfer for Integrated Greenhouse Crop Production and Protection Management

In the context of liberalized market exchanges, greenhouse crop production technology offers the possibility to engage and compete with high-value horticultural crops and to sustain the production throughout the year for continued market supply with fresh produce. This is of particular interest in meeting the demand for new market niches with vegetable and floriculture products. The real potential for increased productivity, control over quality and timing of the production are the real assets.

In addition, protected cultivation techniques will allow a more efficient use of natural resources and a reduction in the application of pesticides. It should be realized that in the race for increased productivity, farmers have often resorted to the excessive use of inputs and specifically mineral fertilizers, pesticides and also irrigation water. These practices are a threat to soil and ground water pollution leading to health hazards for both the producers and consumers. By growing plants in a controlled environment, the conditions are created for reducing the reliance on pesticides applications and for allowing considerable savings on water and fertilizer requirements while catering for high quality and safe produce with higher market value. Assistance will be provided to member countries through technical advise and training for the adoption of Integrated Greenhouse Production and Protection Management (IGPP) by the farmers. The IGPP strategy is proposed as an integrated package combining crop management, climate control and technology, including substrate and hydroponic cultivation aiming at the reduction in use of water, fertilizers and pesticides.

Capacity building will be provided for the design, construction and assembling of greenhouses within the country in order to create job opportunities and to lower the price. Priority attention will be given to the adoption of agronomic and technological solutions aiming at the avoidance of environmental pollution and meeting the requirements of international standards in regard to LMR (Limit of Maximum Residues) as established i.a. by the EU. Through inter-country cooperation and networking IGPP packages will be experimented and validated. Information will be compiled and circulated through modern communication aids including web-site. Greenhouse crop technology is particularly suited to vulnerable and difficult environments including arid and semi-arid regions of North Africa and the Near East as well as high rainfall areas in the humid tropics of tropical Africa, Latin and Central America, Caribbean, Asia, Pacific and Indian Ocean. Greenhouse crop production is expected to be particularly attractive to the young graduates and other private farmers who look for a more “technified” and business oriented agriculture. This output will strengthen the SPFS and specifically it's “intensification” and “water management” components. It will allow to convert areas with less natural potential into highly productive and income generating agriculture areas. Further more the greenhouse creates an attractive working environment to facilitate the work of women irrespective of the outside weather conditions and time of the year. The final success will depend on the availability of market outlets. Therefore, continuous monitoring of market opportunities need to be made and special attention will also be given to the socio-economic constraints, including access to small credits for the establishment of small-scale, family type greenhouse units.

The Effects of the Major Output will be:

· Awareness about the advantages of Greenhouse Crop Technology.

· Increased income and productivity; reduced pesticides applications, improved WUE.

· Countries have formulated a strategy for Greenhouse development within the overall agriculture development policy.

· Knowledge base available about Integrated Greenhouse Production and Protection Management.

· Better crop management practices are applied resulting in better labour comfort and efficiency.

· Business plans have been formulated to promote investment in the Greenhouse crop sector for small-scale farmers.

The Indicators of Achieving Major Output Effects are:
· Greenhouse sector has expanded in different climatic zones (Mediterranean-arid and semi-arid, humid topics).

· More young and women entrepreneurs have become greenhouse crop producers.

· Greenhouse policies adopted including MRL standards.

· Increased availability of high quality and safe horticultural produce originating from the greenhouse crop sector meeting the MRL standards.

· Reduction in the use of agro-chemicals (mineral fertilizers and pesticides).

· Improved water use efficiency (WUE).

· Local private workshops established for greenhouse construction and assembling.

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