By: Zoltan Ferenczi
HORTINLEA Symposium at the Global Food Security Conference 2017
Researchers from HORTINLEA and experts from around the world have come together for a symposium within the frame of the Global Food Security Conference 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa, December 3-6, 2017 to discuss the comparative advantages of value chain development (VCD) of orphan crops as a strategic method towards improved food and nutrition security.
The session has been recorded on video and made available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXFa_g-ubL4
Also, please find the below summary:
Summary of Symposium: Value Chain Development of Underutilized Crops for Local Food and Nutrition Security, held at Global Food Security Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, December 3-6, 2017
Key contributors: Prof. Mary Abukutsa-Onyango1, Prof. Wolfgang Bokelmann2, Elisha Gogo2,3, Dr. Susanne Huyskens-Keil2, Prof. William Kosura4, Prof. Michael Krawinkel5, Dr. Elizabeth Mitcham6 and Dr. Silke Stöber7. Rapporteurs: Caroline Moraza7, Zoltan Ferenczi2
The goal of the symposium was to discuss the comparative advantages of value chain development (VCD) of orphan crops as a strategic means towards improved food and nutrition security (Part I: “Doing the right things?”) as well as reveal effective, efficient and inclusive ways to further develop value chains that might be able to adapt to a changing environment and institutional situation (Part II: “Doing things right?”).
The subject was discussed with the help of case study examples focusing on East Africa and the so-called “orphan” or “underutilized” horticultural crops also known as African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs), which commonly refer to leafy greens, such as amaranth, nightshade, cowpea leaves, spider plant, Ethiopian kale, etc. These crops have been gaining attention in East Africa as an alternative crop to “exotic” or introduced horticultural crop types. Current research supports the meaning of orphan crops in their contribution to reducing food and nutrition insecurity. AIVs, as highlighted by Prof. Bokelmann, have the potential to improve diets, diversify farm production and generate income due to a growing yet unsatisfied local demand resulting. However nevertheless, VCD of underutilized crops like AIVs is confronted with significant challenges such as perception problems, a lack of holistic research, poor policy frameworks and also weak marketing strategies. Such diverse challenges make it visible how necessary a truly holistic focus on value chain development is to address the obstacles found at each stage of the product.
Part I: “Doing the right thing?” – Pro and counter arguments
The argument for underutilized crops’ importance for food and nutrition security is that they enable a diversification of food and nutrient sources, i.e. a holistic approach to human diets. This is in contrast to food and nutrition security strategies with “nutrient gap” foci, where supplementation or fortification plays the main role, Prof. Krawinkel explains. In fact nutrition is at the heart of the SDGs with many of these goals reflecting the importance of sound human nutrition for sustainable development. For this awareness creation and sensitization of consumers is needed. Ultimately, influencing food choices and preferences is known to be a strong driver of production and trade. Another critical issue is the importance of empowered consumers able to make informed decisions towards sustainable personal food consumption. This stands in contrast to the observation of consumer dependency on advertisements primarily promoting consumption of unsustainably produced and unhealthy food. There is clear empirical evidence underlining the need for a diversified diet as opposed to a fortified or supplemented diet.
More than half of the global population does not consume adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables. There is a heavy reliance on a small array of crops compared to the large variety of edible plants, resulting in unbalanced diets. Dr. Mitcham presented case studies on effective ways to counter this. A strong dietary diversity linkage, i.e. a positive relationship between the availability of food groups (through household subsistence production) and nutritional, health and development outcomes, makes a strong case for promoting AIVs. However, a growing problem is the increase in consumption of processed foods in low and middle income countries, especially in urban areas due to available income. For what concerns the rural areas, field research from East Africa has demonstrated that increasing smallholder production of horticultural crops and behavior change communication generally increase the consumption of this crop.
Integrating resource-poor smallholder farmers into growing orphan crop (e.g. AIV) VCs holds the potential of addressing the twin problem of income generation in rural areas and nutrition challenges in urban areas, Prof. Kosura says. Research from Kenya shows demand for AIV is growing as a result of the recognition of their nutritional and health benefits. Yet, the local AIV supply fails to keep pace with the demand. Generally speaking, barriers for farmers to adopt AIV production are poor infrastructure, lack of government involvement, negative consumer perceptions and lack of information on AIVs. Awareness creation for the market potential of AIVs, improving information access and collective bargaining through farmers group have the power to develop the production and marketing ends of the AIV value chain.
When considering the impacts of climate change, there are many entry points along the value chain to turn it into a more sustainable one. Starting at the production level, the concept of sustainable intensification (SI) provides a general framework aiming to produce a maximum output by optimizing climate and livelihood trade-offs. Dr Stöber underlines this through an examination of how soil fertility management strategies can be exploited to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Improved irrigation and seed varieties, as well as increased on-farm agrobiodiversity also hold much potential. Adaptation gaps are found due to low adaptive capacities of AIV growers, i.e. almost non-existent income diversification and financial management, as well as limited access to high value/formal markets. Although AIV are found to be climate-smart and socially inclusive, further challenges in the mid- and down-stream segments of the VC can hinder unlocking this potential. Challenges more on a macro-level, such as poorly organized market and land governance, increase losses of AIV in the mid-stream VC segments. Further down-stream at the consumer level demand management promoting the concept of healthy F&V rich diets, in turn replacing animal protein intense diets, could help augment the sustainability of the AIV value chain.
Part II: “Doing things right” – Strategic elements in the value chain
In contrast to tubers or cereals, horticultural crops are highly perishable. Therefore, leafy vegetables such as AIVs, are by their nature largely affected with post-harvest losses. Research trials in Kenya have shown that losses at the market can be up to 50%. Not only is the loss of quantity detrimental for upward mobility, but also loss of quality is highly problematic. If poor handling along the VC paired with fast perishability leads to loss of AIV’s high nutritional value (e.g. carotenoids, iron, zinc), the crop’s value decreases significantly. In the case of Kenya, there is a need to revolutionize AIV packaging methods and post-harvest management. Breaking down the economic impacts of quantity and quality losses per VC step can help promote the importance of adopting emerging post-harvest technologies and innovation.
Consumption of underutilized crops is the last stage of the VC and also developing this stage is crucial not only for supply and demand, but also consumer health. It appears that perishability management between harvest and consumption does indeed have an effect on nutritional value. On the one hand results from samples taken at Kenyan markets have shown that total mineral count and antioxidants are higher in AIV sold at open markets vs. supermarkets On the other hand AIV processing (cooking and drying) in turn does not have a detrimental effect on nutritional content and protective compounds. Processing innovations or value-addition, through e.g. fermentation, deriving extracts or powder, could offer methods to secure the nutritional benefits frequently lost during the marketing stages of the VC. Value-addition through processing also creates new marketing strategies for this underutilized crop. Finally, AIV as a neglected crop now enjoying a surge in popularity due to its nutritional benefits gives reason to consider it as an undiscovered so-called “super food”.
 Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya, 2 Thaer-Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany, 3 Egerton University, Kenya, 4 Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Nairobi, Kenya, 5 Institute of Nutritional Sciences, Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany, 6 Dept. of Plant Sciences, University of California, USA, 7 SLE, Humboldt-University