Food prices have soared to record highs and are projected to increase further in the coming decade, pushing millions of people into hunger -- and fueling political unrest around the world.
But diversifying food production to include local and indigenous vegetables can help communities boost their self-sufficiency and protect vulnerable populations from price shocks.
Abdou Tenkouano, director of AVRDC-- The World Vegetable Center's Regional Center for Africa in Tanzania, highlights important policy recommendations in his chapter, "The Nutritional and Economic Potential of Vegetables," in the recently published State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. The accompanying policy brief is available here.
Vegetables can offer a sustainable solution for a diverse and balanced diet. Growing vegetables can help address the "hidden hunger" of micronutrient deficiencies that affects some 1 billion people worldwide, and also brings multiple benefits for farmers. "Vegetables have shorter cycles, are faster-growing than cereal crops, and require little space," says Tenkouano.
Here are three recommendations to boost worldwide interest in and availability of indigenous vegetable varieties:
Listen to farmers. Organizations like AVRDC and the International Development Research Centre hold periodic workshops and field days, bringing together farmers, consumers, businesses, and communities to identify varieties of onion, tomato, eggplant, and okra that grow the best, taste the best, and perform best at local markets. This helps researchers develop more nutritious and locally adapted varieties that enhance and complement specific food preparations.
Get seeds to farmers. The seeds of preferred vegetable varieties are being made more widely available in Africa and elsewhere. Better seeds mean more vitamins in the food, better-tasting food, and ultimately less hunger and malnutrition. After scientists at AVRDC developed two higher-yielding tomato varieties with thicker skins -- making them less vulnerable to pests and damage -- farmers growing these varieties raised their incomes by 40 percent.
Take advantage of what's local. As the impacts of climate change become more evident, indigenous vegetables that have been neglected for decades are regaining attention because of their tolerance to drought and resistance to pests. Researchers have developed improved varieties of amaranth, African eggplant, African nightshade, and cowpea that are now widely available in many parts of Africa. In Uganda, Project DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation), supported by Slow Food International, is reigniting an interest in these foods by teaching students how to grow and cook indigenous vegetables.
Investing in agricultural development, especially indigenous vegetable crops, could help feed communities in Africa and worldwide, boosting their resilience to price shocks while helping farmers protect biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.
To learn more about how AVRDC is working with farmers to diversify food production, see: Breeding Vegetables with Farmers in Mind, The Nutritional and Economic Potential of Vegetables, Listening to Farmers, Cultivating food security in Africa, Transforming Vegetables into Products, NtP in Tanzania's The Citizen, and Innovation of the Week: Homegrown Solutions to Alleviating Hunger and Poverty.
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