Monday, July 19, 2010
The Stove-top Pot Emerges as New Weapon to Protect Crop Diversity
By Matthew Davis
As Director General of Bioversity International, Emile Frison is a tireless advocate of the need to preserve Africa’s rich array of crop varieties both in the field and in national and international crop genebanks.
But at the 5th Annual African Agriculture Science Week and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa, now underway in Ouagadougou, Frisson said the campaign needs to move into the kitchen as well.
He said part of the loss of crop varieties is attributable to a more narrow selection of foods appearing on many African dinner tables, and that one way to maintain crop diversity is to rekindle an interest in a wider array of traditional foods, particularly among women who do the majority of cooking.
“They are the ones you want to target because they will choose what goes into the cooking pot and on the table,” he said.
Frison said the fight to protect crop diversity needs to enter the “nutritional domain.” He said the “simplification” of the diet in many African regions, its focus on a smaller set of food crops, is linked to a rise in diet-related afflictions across the region such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. But Frison said there is a natural link between policies that seek to improve nutrition and policies that seek to encourage wider cultivation of native African crops, such as traditional, healthy varieties of leafy green vegetables.
He pointed to a partnership in Kenya with a major supermarket chain, which agreed to carry locally-grown greens and saw sales of the vegetable increase by 1100 percent in just two years.
He said the success of the program shows that it is possible to push against the negative stigma increasingly associated with native foods and use nutrition as a force to “re-diversify" African agriculture.