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
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.
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
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.