Underutilized crops in the production systems, livelihoods and diets of farmers in Mali, Guatemala and India: Results of household assessments


Underutilized crops in the production systems, livelihoods and diets of farmers in Mali, Guatemala and India: Results of household assessments

IFAD-EU NUS Nutrition Value Chain Development Fonio Chaya Tepary Bean Bambara Groundnut Minor millets Latin America South Asia Africa

Traditional crops have important values for nutrition and climate resilience but have often been under-researched and under-valued in agricultural development. Household surveys were performed in communities in India, Guatemala, and Mali to understand the role of underutilized crops in their cultivation systems, diets, and incomes and reveal how these crops can be leveraged to improve food security, nutrition, and livelihoods. In addition to looking at the big picture, the surveys also zoomed in on some focal species that were prioritized through multi-stakeholder consultations in each country.

In the eastern region of Madhya Pradesh, India, kodo (Paspalum scrobiculatum) and kutki (Panicum sumatrense) millets stood out as key staples and income sources for the 30 communities surveyed, despite a decreasing trend for their cultivation. These minor millets have potential to increase farmers’ revenues through enhanced production and sale, yield enhancement or value addition. Increasing production of millets could help reduce food shortage in these communities who are increasingly challenged by drought. Fruits and pulses stood out as key foods needed to address nutrition gaps and vegetables were consumed less commonly by households with a poor diet. Based on this result, follow up surveys on the seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables were recently performed to see how local crops can be leveraged for more balanced diets.

In Guatemala, the survey revealed that production systems and diets were dominated by maize (Zea mays) and beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). Several native vegetables and fruits documented in the survey such as chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius), chipilin (Crotalaria longirostrata), hierba mora (Solanum sp), guisquil (Sechium edule), loroco (Fernaldia pandurata), mamey (Mammea americana) and zapote (Pouteria sapota) could help improve diet quality. Chaya was the most common vegetable grown in the three focal communities. This highly nutritious and drought tolerant perennial provides a dark green leafy vegetable throughout the year. Currently the communities are not marketing this species but it could be an opportunity to earn income, while also improving availability of this nutritious food. Beans are an important protein source for the communities and also a common income source. Tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius)—a drought tolerant related species that is nearly forgotten in Guatemala— can help build a more resilient supply of pulses in the face of mounting drought pressure.

Two native West African crops–fonio (Digitaria exilis) and Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea)–were seen to have a significant place in the production systems of farmers in communities surveyed in Sikasso and Ségou regions of Mali. These crops were making only a minor contribution to incomes but had distinct roles for food security and nutrition. The consumption of these crops was distinctly high in the lean period, as they are harvested early and break the famine before other staples like sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) and pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) are harvested. Pulse consumption was low among women with poor diet diversity so Bambara groundnut can have an important role in diversifying local diets for better nutrition. Native vegetables such as West African sorrel (Corchorus olitorius), roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Ethiopian eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum) and gombo (Abelmoschus esculentus) had limited production but could also help improve diet quality.

These surveys were part of the baseline assessment for the project “Linking agrobiodiversity value chains, climate adaptation and nutrition: Empowering the poor to manage risk” supported by IFAD and the European Commission from 2015-2018. The objective was to document the systems at the start of the project and support identification of interventions that can be taken to enhance the contribution of underutilized species to the nutrition, climate resilience and incomes of focal communities. The surveys provided several important insights that are being followed up in the project with more detailed assessments and action research. The full reports can be downloaded below. 

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