An expert meeting on neglected and underutilized species value chains in sub-Saharan Africa was held at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Campus in Cotonou, Benin on 29-30 November 2016. The meeting marked the end of a three-year project on ‘Strengthening capacities and informing policies for developing value chains of neglected and underutilized crops in Africa’ that was supported by the ACP-EU Science & Technology Programme from 2014–2016. The meeting specifically considered the role of neglected and underutilized species in agricultural diversification, the UN Agenda 2030, and climate change responses.
Participants included experts from the project team from Bioversity International, Benin, Kenya and Zimbabwe and representatives of invited organizations working on neglected and underutilized species, such as Crops for the Future (Malaysia) and Institut d’Economie Rurale (Mali). As a whole 32 participants from 13 countries attended. Using a combination of results sharing and view points from non team members, participants brought forward key recommendations for mainstreaming neglected and underutilized species in agricultural development, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
A few of the recommendations from the meeting are as follows:
- Neglected and underutilized species should be at the centre of global efforts on nutrition, sustainability and climate change adaptation. They can provide a robust contribution in the implementation of most of the 17 SDG Goals of the UN Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development.
- Mainstreaming neglected and underutilized species will need champions who play a key role in bringing them to the forefront: scientists who are passionate about them, educators who can promote their inclusion in higher education curricula, development experts who can advocate policy changes in support of their use, and institutions who can help build broader platforms for their mainstreaming. Identifying, coaching and promoting such champions will be an essential action to pursue.
- Mainstreaming neglected and underutilized species in higher education has only just started. There is a need to develop user-friendly, accessible learning resources on these species. All this will require active work with both academic leaders and lecturers at all levels, and support from policy level and donors.
- Business incubation opportunities are clearly present. However, in terms of commercializing neglected and underutilized species products, going from pilot scale to wider scale can be beyond the means of small-scale entrepreneurs, even if the pilot scale is profitable. Institutional support to facilitate access to financing, meet food safety standards, design packaging and labeling, access export markets, etc., for such value chain upgrading, will be required and future projects should consider these needs.
- Researchers working on neglected and underutilized species need to be better connected with one another. An excellent move would be the launching of a forum of all platforms working on neglected and underutilized crops which would help avowing duplication, promoting exchange of ideas, building synergy, and giving visibility to very interesting albeit isolated work being carried out around the world, including Africa. Thesis research projects on neglected and underutilized species are valuable but need to be better ‘pooled’, marketed and funded for more robust outputs.
The full list of recommendations can be downloaded by this link (50 KB).