Value chains of neglected crops in Africa

Published: 2014-03-24

Neglected species (NUS) offer niche markets and incomes for farmers, better nutrition, and options for climate change adaptation. In an IFS project funded by the EU, stakeholders in Africa will develop value chain upgrading of two promising crops, Bambara groundnut and amaranth. This will also involve training, developing agricultural education curricula and informing policy makers.

Africa hosts thousands of edible plants, but only a small number dominate agriculture. Globally, more than 4,000 food-plant species are commonly eaten. However, these crops are in rapid decline and their potential is often overlooked. Worldwide, farmers are abandoning them as globalisation, population growth and urbanisation change agricultural and food systems.

A more sustainable agricultural model is needed to address food and nutrition insecurity, climate change and secure agro-ecosystem services. So, there is growing international recognition that nutritious NUS crops are important in improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa and, because many NUS are well adapted to marginal environments, they also offer opportunities for climate change adaptation.

IFS and its partners have recently successfully completed the first of two ACP-EU funded programmes: “Building human and institutional capacity for enhancing the conservation and use of neglected and underutilised species of crops in West Africa, and Eastern and Southern Africa”.

This programme focused on training over 200 young African scientists undertaking research on NUS. It was designed to strengthen the ability of the scientists to conduct high quality research through training in project conceptualisation and proposal writing, scientific communication, field trial methodologies and design and data analysis, nutritional aspects of NUS and an introduction to value chains and their upgrading. Towards the end of the project, with our partners we organised the 3rd International Conference on Neglected and Underutilised Species (for a Food-Secure Africa) , in Accra, Ghana.

We have now commenced a second ACP-EU funded project: Strengthening capacities and informing policies for developing value chains of neglected and underutilised crops (NUS) in Africa” which will focus more closely on upgrading the value chains of two promising crops, Bambara groundnut and amaranth.

 Bambara groundnut is drought tolerant, which helps farmers manage risks, and has high nutritional value. Amaranth is nutritious, rich in vitamins and essential minerals. Yet, both crops are constrained by weak value chains that largely involve local markets. Lessons learned in developing value chains of these two different kinds of crops can be applied also to many other NUS. Commercialising NUS requires a holistic value chain approach, supportive policies and receptive markets. Value chain development can be facilitated through multi-stakeholder platforms that analyse constraints, identify options for upgrading, and agree on strategies and actions, leading to greater overall value addition, and to a fairer distribution of that value. Countries’ capacity to manage this process needs strengthening and researchers play an important role in this  but they need to be able to work in multi-disciplinary teams and need training to put results into practice. At least 150 young scientists from universities, research institutes and non-governmental organisations in 15 African countries will be trained in value chain upgrading, and in communicating results of research to value chain actors, such as farmers’ organisations, private sector operators, and agricultural development organisations. An enabling environment for value chain upgrading of underutilised crop species will be supported by influencing higher agricultural education and informing agricultural policy makers on the potential of these crops for income, nutrition and adaptation to climate change.



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