Highlights: Day 1

Dr Jojo Baidu-Forson, Director of Bioversity International Regional office for Sub-saharan Africa with Dr R.E.M. Entsua-Mensah from CSIR, Ghana. Photo: E.Hermanowicz/Bioversity

The first day of the conference has flown by thanks to the inspiring and informative speeches delivered by participating speakers and researchers.

The Third International Conference on NUS was officially opened by two Deputy Ministers of the Ghanian Government, Dr. M. Mohammed-Alfa (Deputy Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation) and Dr. Yakubu Alhassan (Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture). They welcomed the participants (nearly 150 from 36 countries) and expressed their warm appreciation to the organisers for having chosen Ghana as the venue for this important international meeting. Dr. Yakubu emphasised the importance of NUS for Africa as strategic assets to fight the great challenges affecting this region, including food insecurity, climate change, and poverty. He also pointed out that a robust promotion of NUS will require “funding to support all activities across the entire value chain, ‘from the farm to the table’. These introductory addresses were followed by a highly inspiring speech by Her Excellency Mary Mubi (FAO Ambassador), who reminded everybody of the key role played by women in maintaining crop diversity and knowledge related to NUS. She also called on all of us to work closely with policy makers at national and international level to ensure that pro-NUS policies are included in globally important framework such as the Millennium Development Goals.

Conference participants with HE Mary Mubi. Photo: E.Hermanowicz/Bioversity

The following speaker, Prof. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango from Kenyatta University of Agriculture, strongly emphasised the need for more participatory approaches in promoting NUS. She highlighted that farmers and producers are key stakeholders in these efforts and need to be closely involved.  Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, the Director General of FARA, pointed out the severe genetic and cultural erosion that is affecting NUS. Recollecting a personal story, he told the audience that at least 8 recipes for the preparation of local foods in his own community have disappeared since his childhood.  ‘If you can remember more, than you are probably older than me’, he added. The message he gave was very clear: ‘What you do not know, you don’t conserve any longer”.

Mr Gus Le Breton giving an energising talk on NUS commercialisation. Photo: E.Hermanowicz/Bioversity

The highlight of the afternoon sessions was a very innovative and interesting presentation by Mr Gus Le Breton from Zimbabwe on Value Chains, which introduced one of the three key themes of the conference. Mr Le Breton captured the key elements of value chains that are essential for their self sustainability. He showed his pragmatic perspective on the commercialisation of NUS and shared his experiences upgrading the value chain of melon seeds in Zimbabwe. His talk was very energising and was received with great enthusiasm despite being scheduled just after lunch, which Mr Le Breton described humorously as the ‘graveyard session’ of any conference. The session also included introductions to the other two conference themes: Resilience and Policies.

Journalists and photographers from different media outlets attended the first day. Photo: E.Hermanowicz/Bioversity

The conference then broke into parallel sessions which were structured around the three conference themes. Late into the afternoon, the participants chose between two side events, one on higher education and food security and the other on nutrition diversification.

The long day came to a close with poolside drinks in the courtyard of Hotel Mensvic, where conference guests exchanged their reflections and ideas in a more informal setting listening to the tunes of Ghanaian High Life music.

So far the conference has raised high interest from the media. Journalists from the national press agency, state television, and other media outlets have attended

There is lots more to come today! Follow us on twitter #NUS2013 for live updates throughout the meeting.

Highlights: Day 2 and 3

The second and third days of NUS2013 focused on the three Conference themes—  Resilience and Livelihoods, Value Chains, and Policy.  More than 50 scientific talks took place in three well-attended parallel sessions.

Each presenter had been asked to reflect on the policy needs relevant to their work. Combined, they made up a list of thoughtful recommendations on ways to create a more enabling environment for the use enhancement of NUS in Africa.

The side events at the end of each day very engaging and participants happily continued their informal dialogue well after dark. Highlights from the final two days of the meeting are presented below.

Theme: Resilience and Livelihoods

Gennifer Meldrum and other speakers of the session are taking questions from the audience. Photo: E.Hermanowicz/Bioversity

A number of excellent presentations shed light on the nutritional value and agronomic performance of NUS such as leafy vegetables, mung bean, fonio, Bambara groundnut and yam.

Dr Nanduri Kameswara Rao of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), showed how NUS can help increase agricultural production in hot, dry, salty, and nutrient-poor agricultural environments. ICBA has found, for example, that hardy quinoa seems to be adapting well to the Middle East, in spite of its distant origin in the highlands of the Andes.

Gennifer Meldrum of Bioversity shared the results of a survey in Bolivia, Nepal and India that documented farmers’ perspectives on crops considered to be resistant to climate change. Not surprisingly, Bolivian farmers regarded quinoa as a highly resilient crop. Farmers in Nepal and India found minor millets (finger millet, kodo millet, small millet) to be particularly drought resistant.

The emerging message is that NUS offer tremendous opportunities for adaptation to climate change.  More need to be done to enhance their uses, conserve their genetic diversity and associated indigenous knowledge and to expand best practices for their cultivation.

Theme: Value Chains

Opportunities and constraints in the upgrading of value chains of NUS in Africa were in focus, with additional examples from other regions.

Income opportunities for crops like Saba senegalensis (use in the sweet juices), improving drying methods for marketing of Dioscorea dumentorum, and improving the value chain of dabai, a poorly known but highly attractive fruit from Malaysia, were but a few of the interesting talks. Production of high quality seed can be a major bottleneck for value chains of African leafy vegetables and contract farming was proposed as a solution to tackle that issue.

Dr Padulosi presented Bioversity’s new marketing strategy on NUS, noting that markets can be instruments for maintaining and promoting diversity. (Learn more here)

A side event on upgrading value chains of NUS was hosted by Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe (BiZ) and Bioversity on Day 2. Matthias Jäger of Bioversity shared his experience in facilitating the marketing of native chili peppers in Peru and Bolivia, the centre of diversity of this important crop. He described how his team used diversity of peppers to develop high- quality pickled pepper products that are soon coming to regional markets. These results, he explained, requires that all actors all along the value chain— farmers, researchers, private sector companies and consumers— participate right from the project design stage (more on this work here).

Entrepreneur Gus Le Breton of BiZ, Zimbabwe, shared his personal experience on practical aspects in marketing NUS. He underlined that the selection of species is critical because there are thousands of them! The criteria should be “quick wins” rather than long-term perspectives and choosing crop products with chemical compositions that are not easily reproduced synthetically. His recommendation for scientists is to collectively prioritize a few species and to include more private players for effective demand-driven research.

Theme: Policy

Most of Day 3 was dedicated to discussing policy issues related to the promotion of NUS. Dr Padulosi shared his analyses of existing policy frameworks that promote or hinder NUS at national and international level. A summary of policy recommendations emerging from the conference followed, drawing on the outstanding work of the sessions’ rapporteurs.

The policy recommendations could be grouped under nine main areas of action:

  • Include NUS in National and International strategies for addressing global issues
  • Establish a priority set of NUS on which to focus
  • Support research on NUS and how they contribute to resilient production systems
  • Strengthen collaboration and information-sharing, including with farmers
  • Support the development of NUS value-chains and small or start-up agri-businesses
  • Promote the cultivation of NUS through awareness campaigns
  • Support the conservation of NUS in situ and ex situ and strengthen seed systems
  • Support the farmers’ rights
  • Include topics in higher education curricula and build the capacity for NUS research and entrepreneurship
Kpadonou G. Esaïe, winner of the best poster prize – not too much text, nice photos & diagrams and solid science behind. Photo: E.Hermanowicz/Bioversity

Specifically, it was suggested that countries should establish national platforms to facilitate links between farmers, researchers, entrepreneurs and policy makers. In the end, the need for cooperation on NUS R&D was the real buzz word of the conference.

A panel discussion in two rounds concluded the conference.  Chaired by Richard Hall, IFS, Sweden, and Ambassador Mary Mubi of Zimbabwe, respectively, the panel members reflected on what needs to be done within each sector, and what cross-sector actions are required. Once again the needs for collaborative frameworks on NUS, and for building capacity to work across disciplines and sectors were emphasized.  The Milano Expo 2015 which will focus on Food Security and Biodiversity was flagged as a great opportunity to forge such partnerships and make the NUS Agenda more visible to millions of visitors.

The importance of farmers rights, collaboration with farmer organizations and ensuring that we take pro-poor strategies in developing NUS were other points underlined. A clear message came in the final remarks: “we don’t want just commoditization of NUS, we want to see value chains develop for these crops for the maximum benefit of farmers and local communities”. Unlocking the multiple livelihood benefits from NUS will be driving the Agenda of many enthusiastic NUS scientists from Africa for the years to come.