We live in a highly interconnected world faced with a multitude of interacting pressures: poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, climate change, and a growing human population. We need solutions for agricultural development that can enhance food security and reduce poverty through more efficient and sustainable means.
We have been developing and testing a holistic approach to value chain development of neglected and underutilized species that addresses issues across the inter-related segments of the value chain, bridges the gap between conservation and use, and leverages the nutrition and sustainability benefits of target crops to achieve livelihood and sustainability benefits.
Through a multi-stakeholder, participatory, inter-disciplinary, pro-poor and gender-sensitive approach, activities undertaken in this framework span from seed selection and enhancing cultivation, post-harvest, value addition, and marketing to surveying, collecting and conserving genetic diversity. Capacity building supports all aspects and includes training farmers and researchers, as well as lobbying to establish a supportive policy environment.
Conservation of crop genetic resources is a major aspect of the approach that is pursued actively by conserving material ex situ and strengthening on-farm conservation through various methods, such as diversity fairs and community seed banks. It is also intended that the value chain development in itself stimulates conservation by providing incentive to continue and upscale cultivation of target species.
This approach has been developed and tested prominently through the decade-long IFAD-NUS project which worked to promote :
A similar approach to value chain development has also been applied for leafy vegetable promotion in Africa, promotion of wild fruit value chains through the UNEP-GEF Tropical Fruit Tree project and promotion of native capsicum in Peru through the BMZ-Bioversity International Project. Visit the Bioversity International page for more information on all their projects on marketing diversity.
Neglected and underutilized species hold great potential to address critical development challenges because of their local environmental and cultural specificity, their capacity to grow under marginal low-input conditions, their nutritious qualities, and extraordinary diversity that holds high option value to generate income for the rural poor. Yet despite their potential, many neglected and underutilized species are not cultivated widely or intensively because they have traits that hinder their cultivation, use, or marketability. Limited seed availability, low yields, laborious processing, and lack of markets are just a few of the constraints that keep these species under the title of “neglected and underutilized”. In many cases these crops also carry a stigma as “food of the poor” that must be overcome in order to increase demand. Typically these crops face multiple bottlenecks at various points in their value chains but these problems are not necessarily insurmountable! Agricultural research has overlooked most crop species while focusing on improving seed, cultivation, processing and market channels for rice, wheat, maize and a narrow selection of other dominant commodities. Directing research attention to promising neglected and underutilized crops could be instrumental in overcoming their constraints and realizing their potential to address global challenges.
Value chain development of neglected and underutilized species can directly improve the livelihoods of poor farmers by increasing yields, decreasing losses during processing, increasing bargaining power, and improving connection to markets. The promotion of highly nutritious species can also generate nutrition and health benefits for target communities by contributing to development of more complete and diversified diets. Improved market channels for neglected and underutilized species can furthermore contribute to strengthening food security by supporting on-farm conservation. Crop diversity within and between species underpins the productivity, stability and adaptability of food systems but this diversity is in decline worldwide due to globalization trends and the promotion of Green Revolution practices that have simplified production systems, as well diets. Higher market potential for neglected and underutilized species can provide incentive for farmers to continue cultivation of these threatened species. To achieve this effect, however, value chain development must be approached in a manner that is sensitive to conservation, as commercialization can also encourage genetic erosion by promoting development of just one or a few varieties. This is why our holistic approach has an explicit focus on conservation of genetic diversity as the starting and end point of the process.