Realising the benefits of enhanced agrobiodiversity
January 26th, 2012
Written by: Norman Looney (The Global Horticulture Initiative), J. Coosje Hoogendoorn (INBAR), Jackie Hughes (AVRDC), Remi Kahane (The Global Horticulture Initiative), Michael Hermann (Crops for the Future), Dyno Keatinge (AVRDC) and Harry Palmier (GFAR)
The catastrophic failure of grain harvests in 2008 and subsequent price hikes for rice and wheat provided dramatic evidence for the fragility of both agricultural production and the wider food economy in many developing countries. Long-term food and livelihood security can be achieved, but if productivity and yields are to be stabilised and improved, a two-pronged approach is essential. In particular, a wide array of underutilised crops must be retained and promoted, in order to diversify agro-ecosystems and optimise the productivity and ecological benefits of crop rotation.
As far as food is concerned, the bulk of the calories in the world’s diet will continue to come from a few major staple crops. These will, nevertheless, need to be continually improved to maintain long term productivity, within the limitations of a sustainable agroecology. However, other food and livelihood security plants – which range from grains and pulses, fodder and fibre plants, root and tuber crops, fruits and vegetables to an array of non-timber forest products (NTFP) – must increasingly be used to provide a balanced diet, protect the farm ecosystem, and provide protection from internal and external market disruptions, especially in developing countries.
These ‘development opportunity’ plants and crops have great untapped potential to support smallholder farmers and rural communities through improved food and nutrition security, as well as income. Many are well adapted to extreme climatic conditions or to high pest and disease pressure, offering resilience to both biotic and abiotic stresses and providing harvestable yields where major crops may fail. Preserving and drawing on such valuable genetic resources is imperative if we are to address present and future environmental challenges.
Global initiative for diversity
In January 2011, a collective movement was formed at a stakeholder meeting to promote collaborative action to strengthen the role and value of agrobiodiversity in the context of development. Provisionally termed the Development Opportunity Crops Network (DOCNet), members and prospective members include UN organisations and international research networks and institutions, together with NGOs and representatives of civil society. The initiative is supported by the secretariats of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)…