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Interventions for mainstreaming underutilized crop species in developing regions.

Food diversity is an essential and sustainable means to improve the diets and health of smallholder farmers in developing regions. Addressing livelihood options in these communities therefore requires that we broaden the focus of research and development to include a much wider range of crop species. Many underutilized crops occupy important niches, and are both nutritionally important and ecologically resilient. Yet, they generally rank low in national agricultural policies and research agendas. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in close cooperation with partners from national and international agencies, is focusing on: (i) documenting underutilized crops, their diversity, distribution and utilization, as an essential step in guiding use-enhancement interventions; (ii) strengthening sustainable conservation through effective linkages between ex situ conservation in gene banks and in situ/on-farm conservation realized by farmers and other users; (iii) enhancing whole-system optimization through holistic, interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder interventions along the value chains and focusing on cultivation, processing and marketing; (iv) creating linkages among user groups, bridge sectors (especially conservation, agriculture and nutrition and health) whose complementarities are essential to the valorization of target species. Scientific and technical innovations are key to securing the full potential of these promising species. European institutions, with a strong focus on plant research and innovation, can provide opportunities in overcoming some of the key challenges by establishing bilateral and multilateral north-south partnerships, increasing scientific collaboration, supporting access and transfer of technology, improving both individual and institutional capacities.

Noorani, A.; Nono-Womdim, R.; Padulosi, S.; Ngwene, B. 2016. Interventions for mainstreaming underutilized crop species in developing regions. Acta Horticulturae 1128, 21-28.