Fonio millet, Lablab bean or Bambara groundnut – hardly anyone in Europe knows these crops. For the small farmers in the South, however, such traditional cereals and pulses are essential. Many of them are very rich in nutrients, resistant to drought, and defy pests.
However, even in the South, such crops are neglected by research and governments and often perceived as poor people’s food. Cash crops, which promise prestige and export opportunities, are promoted instead. As a result, many farmers lose interest and plant traditional cereals, beans and vegetables less and less.
In addition, many countries strictly regulate which seeds may be traded or exchanged at all. These rules are often one-sidedly oriented towards commercial seeds, which is why traditional crops and farmers’ varieties are being pushed back even more.
Adoum Nadji, farmer and seed producer in Kouziwaït, in his sorghum field. Sorghum is one of the most important cereals and can withstand drought very well. Strong, long roots allow for a good water supply. Sorghum can be processed into many products: Cooked like rice or made into porridge, malt or popcorn. The stalks contain sugar and fibre and can also be used.
Pilot project CROPS4HD gives old plants new life
The new project CROPS4HD (Consumption of Resilient Orphan Crop for Products for Healthier Diets) aims to give new life to old plants and reveal their huge potential for nutrition.
CROPS4HD pursues three main goals:
- To make traditional crops and varieties more attractive by demonstrating their nutritional benefits: Many of these plants are very rich in vitamins, proteins and minerals and therefore have the potential – like quinoa or amaranth in recent times – to be hyped as superfoods. In addition, the demand for such products should be stimulated so that their cultivation becomes attractive for the farmers.
- Supporting farmers to improve their cultivation techniques in order to achieve good yields: Together with the local SWISSAID staff, local partners and researchers from FiBL, suitable varieties are selected and cultivated in order to improve yields, taste, nutritional value or other characteristics.
- Strengthening farmers’ seed systems and protecting farmers’ rights to propagate, exchange and sell their seeds: To improve the regulatory frameworks for farmers’ seeds and traditional varieties, the project partners work in the focus countries, at the level of the African continent and internationally. They support farmers’ organisations in demanding their rights and enter into dialogue with decision-makers at different levels.
This traditional crop is found in temperate latitudes as well as in the tropics. There are species whose leaves are used as vegetables, others produce seeds that are used like cereals. Amaranth grows quickly; the leaves can be harvested continuously. The plant is very undemanding and drought-tolerant. Both leaves and seeds have a high protein content and are of very high quality.
A shrubby plant; the woody stems can grow several metres high. Manioc is very drought-resistant and is propagated by cuttings from the stems. The root consists largely of starch. Bitter cassava varieties contain deadly prussic acid and must be washed or stomped to remove it. In contrast, sweet varieties of cassava contain only low concentrations of prussic acid and are cooked like potatoes.
Competent and experienced project partners
SWISSAID is implementing the pilot project together with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL*) and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in AFRICA (AFSA**). APBREBES and GRAIN are two other non-governmental organisations that are committed to farmers’ rights.
In a first step, the partners are implementing the project together in Niger, Chad, Tanzania and India. The experience gained shall be transferable to other countries. The project has a budget of CHF 13,000,000 and is being supported by the The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for an initial period of four years with an amount of CHF 9,800,000, with the participating organisations having to contribute the remaining amount from their own funds.
The consortium of SWISSAID, AFSA and FiBL was able to prevail over 93 other applicants from all over the world in a competitive tendering process. The experience and expertise of the organisations involved complement each other perfectly, which played a decisive role in winning the contract.
*FiBL (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture) is a research institute that is a world leader in organic agriculture and has experience in participatory research, breeding and market development.
**AFSA (Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa) is the largest civil society movement in Africa and has extensive experience in advocacy and agroecology.