A representative image. Photo: ICRISAT
11
Jun

Work on a ‘forgotten foods’ manifesto begins in Africa

A representative image. Photo: ICRISAT

A representative image. Photo: ICRISAT

To trigger research and value chain actions as well as advocacy and promotion of indigenous and forgotten foods in Africa, an extensive consultation with all stakeholders in food systems is expected to result in a continent level manifesto. This manifesto on forgotten and underutilized foods will shape a global manifesto set to be presented at the UN Food Systems Summit later this year.

The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR) led the consultation. Forgotten foods represent an untapped potential for developing our food systems and the manifesto should feature our voice as a continent, said Dr Alioune Fall, Chairperson, FARA’s Board of Directors, in his opening remarks.

In his introductory remarks, Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, FARA, said, “Attention to forgotten food commodities offers a good chance to foster a paradigm change in our food system commodities. Concerted efforts are urgently needed to advance research and development of orphan crops so that security will be achieved and ultimately the livelihood of the population improved.”

The continent has vast potential to feed itself and one of the ways is through forgotten foods. “They are nutrient dense, resilient, indigenous and well-adapted but underutilized, which is an irony,” said Dr Aggrey Agumya, Director of Research and Innovation at FARA.

“Forgotten foods have never received global importance. They have never been the focus of concerted efforts to improve productivity or quality nor have they been the focus of global value chains. These crops are adapted to very challenging environments, which resonates extremely well with our current climate challenges,” said Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT.

According to Dr Hughes, forgotten foods should be an integral part of the continent’s strategy to reduce dependence on food import and to improve food and nutrition security. This could be achieved with policy support from governments in Africa and with financial support by Africa wide organizations such as FARA and African Development Bank, with policies for both supply and demand. “ICRISAT can help revive forgotten foods in Africa via improved varieties of orphan crops like millets and sorghum and with a robust seed system and a strong extension network,” she added.

“Instead of relying heavily on food imports, diversifying crop production to meet both food and nutrition needs is a cost-effective strategy. This can be done by exploiting climate resilient nutritious orphan crop species and mainstreaming them into existing food systems,” said Ms Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information and Smart Food Coordinator for ICRISAT in West and Central Africa.

Exploration of forgotten commodities gained prominence following ICRISAT’s work on sorghum and millet under the Smart Food initiative. ICRISAT works across the whole value chain exploring varietal development, agronomic practices as well as processing to generate new products. FARA is aligning with this work to develop a Smart Food Africa initiative to expand the work done by ICRISAT on sorghum and millet to other neglected commodities and develop a smart food research and development program for their economic utilization.

On how Smart Food is driving the demand for millets, Ms Diama said, “It is about changing the image of these crops. We engage small and medium enterprises, retailers and have champions. We work with youth, chefs and hotels. In Nigeria, we work in schools and even teach processing. Through the Smart Food campaign, we are promoting and improving indigenous, climate-smart and nutritious drylands crop as diets for better nutrition in rural and urban areas,” she said while calling for better packaging and promotion of these food products. Ms Diama was representing Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional and Research Program Director, ICRISAT-WCA.

According to Mr Matthew Montavon, interim Executive Secretary of the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR), agriculture is facing many risks and the problem of hunger goes beyond productivity. “The COVID-19 crisis has shown the fragility of our food systems, such as the disruption of food transportation and in some cases, significant increases in food prices. We need to rethink our production patterns and, in this context, the promotion of neglected and underutilized species plays an important role,” he said.

All panelists agreed that collective actions are required at global, regional and national levels for the potential of forgotten foods to be utilized. These actions involve creating awareness and communicating the economic, nutritional, environmental and cultural values of these foods. They also involve the provision of an enabling environment for research, empowering farmers in production and supporting the private sector in processing and value addition marketing, the panelists emphasized.

“To move from underutilized products to high value products, a systematic approach is needed,” said Dr Sevgan Subramanian, Principal Scientist and Head of Environmental Health Theme at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). “This approach includes how food is produced and how we engage with the communities. A whole body of knowledge has to be created around some of these indigenous foods, including mainstreaming the germplasm, optimizing agronomic practices and developing of suitable post-harvest technologies,” Dr Subramanian added.

The youth is key to taking these crops to the next level and was well represented in the panel. John Agboola, Founder of Agrarian Opportunities, a leading platform connecting Africans to global agricultural opportunities, said the continent is blessed with a young population and that is where it all starts. “We need to look towards the youth to drive the agenda of agri-business and of the manifesto on forgotten foods.”

Ms Nana Adjoa A. Sifa, a Ghanain Agribusiness Entrepreneur, Founder of Guzakuza, explained how important it is to get critical attention to change mindsets regarding the underutilized/forgotten foods. “A collective effort that includes policymakers is required. If we want to change our mindsets, all of us, from the government to people in homes, need to play a role. At high level meetings, start with indigenous foods. Restaurants and hotels need to have indigenous foods on their menus,” she said. Ms Sifa also called for market research to reduce the gap between research and end users of these crops, and advised fellow farmers to become technology-friendly.

“It is imperative to collect and document local knowledge encompassing all aspects of forgotten foods, from traditional beliefs to utilization and agronomics practices. This information would be useful for both product development and creating awareness. We must shape food systems to deliver safe, affordable and nutritious diets,” highlighted Dr Ayoni Ogunbayo, a consultant for the event.

Held on 20 May 2021, the panel discussion was facilitated by Dr Wole Fatunbi, Senior Technical Cluster Leader/Innovation Systems Specialist, FARA.

To view the webinar, click here.

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