Food From Thought

Ndomi Magareth, sows bean seeds on her small piece of land in
Njombe a small town in the coastal Littoral Region of Cameroon.
Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance is a consortium of 30
bean-producing countries in Africa and its improved bean varieties
has helped transition the legume from a subsistence crop to a
modern commodity. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the weather continues to change and land becomes degraded,
the socio-economic security implications are vast. In an effort to
tackle these issues, climate-smart agriculture is quickly gaining
traction around the world.

According to the United Nations
Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)
, 12 million
hectares of productive land become barren every year due to
desertification and drought alone representing a loss of production
of 20 million tons of grain.

Not only is this an economic blow to almost 80 percent of the
world’s poor people who rely on agriculture for their
livelihoods, but hunger levels are also already rising

Such challenges will only be compounded as we must increased
food production by 70 percent by 2050 in order to feed the entire
world population.

The need for sustainable, climate-smart agriculture is thus

One practice that is gaining momentum is the development of
improved, resilient crop varieties which help ensure both food and
economic security.

“In light of changing rainfall patterns where the old
varieties which are drought-susceptible can no longer be produced
under drought conditions, the new varieties which are developed for
resilience have made a complete difference by bringing more beans
on the table for food security as well as more beans for the market
to bring income to the farmers,” one of Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance
bean breeders Rowland Chirwa told IPS.

Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture’s
Senior Scientific
Advisor Vivienne Anthony spoke of the importance of connecting
science to the realities on the ground.

“The community of scientists need to connect with the
entrepreneurs and people that are investing in the future here in
Africa and to work together to improve crops, create jobs, create
markets and not sit back as scientists. They need to engage with
the business,” she said.

From Theory to Practice

In collaboration with the University of Bern, the Syngenta
Foundation has been working to improve Eragrostis tef, commonly
known as teff—one of the most important cereals in Ethiopia where
over 80 percent of the population live in rural areas.

The seeds have high protein levels and are much better adapted
to drought conditions which is an increasingly common experience in
the East African nation.

However, the teff plant produces low yields and harvests are not
keeping pace with Ethiopia’s increasing population.

With modern genetics and improved farming methods, the project
aims to increase yields, putting money into farmers’ pockets.

Demand and access to markets is also essential, Anthony

“Designing a new variety is no different to designing anything
somebody is going to buy. It involves understanding the
marketplace, and who wants to grow it, use it, eat it,” she told

“The way to address some of the problems and challenges of
agricultural sustainability in Africa is about encouraging markets
to flourish that drive opportunity, innovation and
entrepreneurship.  We fundamentally believe in market-based
approaches as a way of trying to meet the Sustainable Goals,
finding a business rationale where everybody wins and it keeps
going,” Anthony added.

Similarly, PABRA is a consortium of 30 bean-producing countries
in Africa and its improved bean varieties has helped transition the
legume from a subsistence crop to a modern commodity.

Beans are among the most consumed and widely grown legume in
Africa, taking up over 6 million hectares of land. Eastern Africa
sees the highest consumption of beans with people eating as much as
50-60 kilograms every year.

However, one study found
that without any adaptation strategies, the yields and nutritional
value of common beans will dramatically decline by 2050.

“We have been following more of a preemptive breeding approach
where we know the climate is changing and at the same time the
needs of the people we are trying to provide products with are also
changing,” bean breeder Clare Mugisha Mukankusi told IPS.

Chirwa echoed similar sentiments, stating: “We look at
regionally in Africa and see which are the major market classes we
can focus on and look at the capacity of our national
partners…and develop varieties that are responsive to the
environmental needs, human consumption needs, and market demand
needs using a Demand Led Breeding (DLB) approach.”

In Rwanda, improved bean varieties increased yields by 53
percent and household revenue by 50 dollars. Without the improved
beans, 16 percent more households would have been food-insecure,
PABRA found.

The International Center for
Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
, which coordinates PABRA, also
helped develop drought-resistant beans which were provided to South
Sudanese refugees in order to reduce their reliance on food aid and
increase self-sufficiency.

From Sustainable Farms to Table

In addition to designing nutritional legumes that are
heat-tolerant and disease-resistant, Mukankusi also highlighted the
need to address the entire value chain to ensure there is
productivity at the farm level.

This means promoting sustainable crop management practices such
as intercropping, which involves growing two or more crops
alongside each other, and crop rotation which can help increase
soil fertility.

Anthony pointed to the importance of education in demand-led
approaches and the business of plant breeding as the Syngenta
Foundation in partnership with the Australian Centre for
International Agriculture and the Crawford Fund work closely with
African Centre for Crop
in Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda so that
local scientists can take the lead.

“Now we have a community of breeders who are trying to do this
to really make an impact,” she said.

In light of environmental challenges, the world has already
started to see a shift in consumption patterns as plant-based foods
gain popularity. Crop breeding may therefore be more essential than

“If we are going to sustain the supply, we cannot sit back but
we have to keep pace with the changes. The breeding has to be there
and responsive to current and future demands,” Chirwa said.

The post Food From
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Food From Thought