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Rockefeller Foundation Calls for Boosting Underutilized Crops To Strengthen Africa’s Food and Nutrition Security

New research builds evidence base for investing in wider array of crops across the continent to support climate resilience and nutrition

NEW YORK | March 14, 2024 — The Rockefeller Foundation today released two reports that build the evidence base for investing in underutilized indigenous and traditional crops as a means of strengthening food and nutrition security and climate resilience in Africa. In collaboration with Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) and, the reports include actionable recommendations to boost agricultural productivity and nutrition and advance the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (or “VACS”), a partnership between the African Union (AU), Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Office of the Special Envoy for Food Security at the U.S. State Department. The new research also provides insight into nearly two dozen cereals, fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and roots that could provide stable and nutritious diets in the face of climate variability and extreme weather.

“One of the inspiring aspects of VACS and these reports is the scientific foundation and process we undertook with our partners to arrive at this point,” said Dr. Cary Fowler, Special Envoy for Global Food Security at the U.S. Department of State. “Nutritionists, plant breeders, climate modelers, soil scientists, economists and others came together–many said for the first time–to collaborate. The opportunity crops that they identified and prioritized are a game changer for addressing food security with the right kind of investment and commitment.”

Launched by the Office of U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security in February 2023 in partnership with the AU and FAO, VACS brings together dedicated communities and individuals from research, advocacy, and policy fields. Together they seek to shine a light on opportunities that traditional and underutilized crops provide to build more resilient and competitive food systems that feed and nourish more people.

According to FAO, more than 700 million people globally are undernourished, and child stunting and nutrient deficiencies are widespread in low- and middle-income countries. Across Africa, nearly 282 million people (about 20% of the population) are undernourished, an increase of 57 million people since the Covid-19 pandemic began. At the same time, global food demand is projected to increase by more than 50% over the next 25 years, while the impacts of climate change are expected to drive crop productivity down. Overreliance on a few staple crops, including maize, wheat, and rice, threatens global food security, especially as extreme weather increasingly causes crop failures and reduced yields.

“As this new research demonstrates, it is possible to produce nutritious food at scale even as our climate changes,” said Roy Steiner, Senior Vice President for The Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Initiative. “With new investments and support, farmers across Africa will be equipped to scale up growth of underutilized indigenous and traditional crops like millet, mung bean, and okra that are good for people and planet alike.”

The Rockefeller Foundation supported the research that underpins the two reports, specifically through grant funding to AgMIP and AgMIP conducted research on the indigenous and traditional crops’ productivity under different climate scenarios. leveraged artificial intelligence to analyze current barriers and potential facilitators for scaling up these crops. The reports provide an in-depth analysis of a variety of well-researched crops, such as maize, cassava, soybean and tomato, and several neglected and/or underutilized indigenous and traditional African crops, such as millet, mung bean, and okra.

In all, the reports cover five categories of traditional and underutilized crops, with 20 crops in total. The crops are:

    • Cereals (fonio, teff, sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet);
    • Legumes (cowpea, grass pea, pigeon pea, bambara groundnut, lablab, mungbean);
    • Roots and tubers (cocoyam, taro, yam, sweet potato);
    • Nuts and oil seeds (sesame, groundnut); and
    • Fruits and vegetables (African eggplant, amaranth, okra).

About The Rockefeller Foundation

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