Smallholder farmers in marginal terrain are important custodians of agricultural biodiversity. Such farmers, who are often indigenous peoples, use diversified production as a means of mitigating risk and meeting family needs and tend to cultivate traditional crops and varieties, which perform better under the low-input, marginal conditions of their land. Women in particular are important custodians of agricultural biodiversity, as they maintain kitchen gardens and minor crops relevant to household nutrition. With very small financial means and limited political voice, agricultural biodiversity is one of the few assets many marginalized rural people possess, but it could be key towards their empowerment.
Empowerment is an intentional process of autonomisation, in which groups or individuals re/gain control of resources that could help them achieve their goals. Marketing neglected and underutilized species can bring income to marginal farmers, who often have a comparative advantage in their production, and for women in particular, who are often the main custodians of these species. The low input requirements of these crops can free farmers from the market grip and bring sustainability benefits to production systems, supporting better health and livelihoods. Greater consumption of neglected and underutilized species can also bring nutrition benefits to rural communities, while revitalizing traditional practices and knowledge transmission that strengthen local culture and identity.
Recognizing the role of communities and individual farmers in the conservation of agricultural biodiversity - a threatened global good – is essential and can empower marginalized rural peoples by recognizing the value of their work and giving them legislative and economic support to continue their efforts.
Our research focuses on promoting neglected and underutilized species to empower poor and marginalized producers, including indigenous peoples. A special attention is given to women, who are central in safeguarding and transmitting knowledge about these species and who are primary agents in preparing food and ensuring nutrition security of their family.
Promoting the cultivation and consumption of neglected and underutilized species through value chain development is a key approach to bring income, sustainability and nutrition benefits to rural communities. Interventions that reduce drudgery in processing are particularly strategic in empowering women, by freeing their time and energy for other activities. Awareness campaigns and training on key issues in nutrition, production, processing and marketing build capacity and confidence in the community. Fostering collective action enhances their negotiation position and consolidates their role in enhanced value chains.