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The role of agricultural biodiversity in diets in the developing world


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Improving diet diversity, quality and ecosystem sustainability. By Federico Mattei Bioversity International. Read more about Bioversity International’s work on diet diversity for nutrition and health.

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The role of agricultural biodiversity in diets in the developing world

  1. 1. The role of agricultural biodiversity in diets in the developing world: Improving diet diversity, quality and ecosystem sustainability – Federico Mattei
  2. 2. <ul><li>200 million children are chronically undernourished </li></ul><ul><li>2 billion people have micronutrient deficiencies </li></ul><ul><li>60% of child deaths have an underlying cause of poor nutrition </li></ul><ul><li>1.6 billion people are overweight or obese </li></ul>The statistics are staggering UNICEF, 2009
  3. 3. South Atlantic Ocean South Pacific Ocean Indian Ocean Arctic Ocean Arctic Ocean North Pacific Ocean 1 billion are overweight or obese Source: The World is Fat (Penguin, Dec 2008) BMI <10% 10-20% 21-30% 31-40% 41-50% > 51%
  4. 4. Loss of agricultural biodiversity
  5. 5. Loss of agricultural biodiversity <ul><li>In the United States an estimated 90 percent of historic fruit and vegetable varieties have vanished . </li></ul><ul><li>In the Philippines thousands of varieties of rice once thrived; now only up to a hundred are grown there . </li></ul><ul><li>In China 90 percent of the wheat varieties cultivated just a century ago have disappeared . </li></ul><ul><li>As for the 8,000 known livestock breeds , 1,600 are endangered or already extinct . </li></ul>
  6. 6. Loss of diet variety <ul><li>The world has over 50 000 edible plants. Just three of them, rice, maize and wheat, provide 60 percent of the world's food energy intake . </li></ul><ul><li>Of these 50 000, only a few hundred contribute significantly to food supplies. </li></ul><ul><li>Although there are over 10 000 species in the Gramineae (cereal) family, few have been widely introduced into cultivation over the past 2 000 years </li></ul><ul><li>Cereals are high in carbohydrates so they do provide energy, have low to moderate protein but are low in micronutrients; often poor quality and over processed . </li></ul>
  7. 7. Yields, Prices or Nutrient Outputs <ul><li>Agricultural practices have bee traditionally aimed at increasing production while decreasing costs </li></ul><ul><li>Recently, preserving the environment has become more prominent goal </li></ul>However, maximizing nutrient output of farming systems has never been a primary objective of modern agriculture
  8. 8. Ecosystem Services Ecosystem services (also called environmental services or nature’s services) are benefits provided by ecosystems to humans , that contribute to making human life both possible and worth living Traditional ecosystem services include: • crop pollination • pest and disease control • nutrient dispersal and cycling • seed dispersal • crop pollination • carbon sequestration and climate regulation • waste decomposition and detoxification
  9. 9. Optimizing Nutrient Diversity <ul><li>Human nutrition is one of the most important, but often overlooked, ecosystem service </li></ul><ul><li>As humans modify their environment, they select and protect some species and exclude and eradicate others to maximize the provisioning of ecosystem services </li></ul><ul><li>Optimizing for nutrient diversity can be presented schematically as maximizing the various arms of an ecological spider diagram where increasing species richness increases the capacity of the agro ecosystem </li></ul>“ Spider Diagram of the Three Sisters”
  10. 10. Optimizing Nutrient Output One means of assuring adequate dietary diversity would be to manage agro ecosystems in ways that will result in plentiful and diversified nutrient output of farming systems Two processes are at work: - Complementary effect: Interactions between species result in a yield or function greater than that expected by chance . These interactions range from resource partitioning, in which different organisms use resources differently thus reducing competition, to symbiotic and mutual interactions in which a species facilitates the presence or success of another - Sampling effect: if we increase the number of crops produced in a farming system, simply by chance, we also increase the probability that communities will obtain nutrients needed
  11. 11. Mesoamerican “three sisters” <ul><li>-The combination of corn (a grass), beans (a nitrogen fixating legume) and squash (a low lying creeper) maximize trait efficiency between species resulting in higher yields that those obtained from three monocrop cultures of these crops </li></ul><ul><li>Corn is particularly efficient at maximizing photosynthesis and grows straight and tall, the beans take advantage of this structural support and help fixate nitrogen (which become available to the corn) and the squash takes advantage of the relative shade provided by the other two and provides soil erosion protection. </li></ul><ul><li>Corn is an important source of carbohydrates, beans provide protein, fiber, vitamin B, zinc and iron and squash provides many micronutrients including vitamin A </li></ul>
  12. 12. Rice Paddies and Fish Farming - Fish culture in rice fields offer one of the best means of contemporaneous production of grain and animal protein on the same piece of land - Increase in organic fertilization by fish excreta and remains of artificial feed and reduction in the number of harmful insects, such as paddy stem borers, whose larvae are eaten by fish as well as control of algae and weeds which compete with rice for light and nutrients - It is estimated that a potential fish yield of 2.2 – 2.4 million metric tons could be obtained annually from the rice fields (Vincke, 1979) which would provide essential protein and micronutrients need to complement a rice based diet
  13. 13. Shaded Coffee and Fruit Trees <ul><li>- Most of the original coffee trees brought to the New World from European countries would burn in the sun, which made shade necessary for growth </li></ul><ul><li>However, in order to produce faster, higher yields and prevent the spread of coffee leaf rust, over the past 50 years new sun tolerant trees have been developed to yield higher production rates </li></ul><ul><li>As a result, sun tolerant trees can produce three times more coffee than a shade bush in a year, but the cultivation practices used for them often have a negative impact on the environment </li></ul>
  14. 14. Shaded Coffee and Fruit Trees <ul><li>The traditional shade-grown coffee farm resembles a forest because it consists of several layers of trees, such as fruit and hardwood trees, epiphytes, and other assorted bushes and plants </li></ul><ul><li>Growing coffee under shade discourages weed growth, may reduce pathogen infection, protect the crop from frost, and helps to increase numbers of pollinators which results in better fruit set </li></ul><ul><li>If fruit trees are selected and planted in order to provide the necessary shade cover coffee farmers will be able to complement coffee production with fruit harvesting, thus being able to access essential micronutrients </li></ul>
  15. 15. A Few Words on Income, Price Volatility and Resilience <ul><li>Most smallholder farmers are net food buyers </li></ul><ul><li>Food prices have been very volatile in recent times and income generated from selling crops is highly variable </li></ul><ul><li>By diversifying production smallholder farmers diversify risk (hedging bets) </li></ul><ul><li>By producing a variety of crops, farmers can access essential nutrients without having to rely on markets </li></ul><ul><li>Diversification of production increases resilience of farming paradigms </li></ul>
  16. 16. Food Systems and Ecological Approaches Staple production is essential as it provides the bulk of energy requirement s needed in a daily diet but….. It can be complemented, in more complex food systems , with other crops that not only provide fortified ecosystem services but also, essential micronutrients Furthermore, this increase in agricultural biodiversity acts as a way to decrease risk (hedging bets) and increase resilience while at the same time avoiding a depletion of natural capital 1 2 3
  17. 17. Major objectives of our nutrition work <ul><li>Strengthen the evidence base for the role of biodiversity in nutrition and health and the means of incorporating agricultural biodiversity, specifically, into food and nutrition systems approaches </li></ul><ul><li>Conduct operations research on agricultural biodiversity practices and delivery systems that work on the ground in development programmes to improve nutrition security </li></ul><ul><li>Promote the production of more nutritious foods that reflect agricultural biodiverse practices and cultural preferences through commercial pathways </li></ul><ul><li>Inform policy and practice of evidence and provide solutions at the policy level by mainstreaming the importance of agricultural biodiversity into nutrition and public health sectors </li></ul>
  18. 18. Key beneficiaries <ul><li>Rural smallholder farmers in the developing world </li></ul><ul><li>Populations living in peri-urban and urban settings without access to diversity </li></ul><ul><li>Communities at risk of traditional food system loss </li></ul>Our major focus is in rural and peri-urban communities in the developing world
  19. 19. Our Focus and “Tool” <ul><li>Local and traditional foods (LTFs) and neglected and underutilized species (NUS), wild foods, plant species such as lesser-known grains and legumes, leafy green vegetables, tubers, crop wild relatives and forest fruits </li></ul>
  20. 20. Cost of Diets Project <ul><li>Gates Grand Challenge Grant in collaboration with Save the Children UK. </li></ul><ul><li>The role of wild and underutilized foods in reducing the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet in order to develop accessible and local food-based solutions to micronutrient deficiencies in the Baringo East region of Kenya </li></ul><ul><li>Hypothesis: Locally sourced NUS and wild foods in Baringo, Kenya can be used to significantly reduce the daily cost of a nutritious diet and reduce the gap between cost of diet and income for households, thus identifying local solutions aimed at meeting the nutrient requirements of mothers and 6-24 month old children in the area. </li></ul>Wild Foods in the Cost of Diet
  21. 21. Past Initiatives <ul><li>Local leafy vegetables have long been an important part of African diets - nutritious, affordable and adapted to local growing conditions and cultural traditions. </li></ul><ul><li>Working with 300 resource poor vegetable farmers in peri-urban areas of Nairobi, B.I. identified the key issues hindering cultivation, conservation and marketing of traditional African leafy vegetables </li></ul>Traditional African Leafy greens in Kenya Minor Millets in India <ul><li>Minor millets, high in iron and calcium, are grown in areas of India where, because of their high tolerance to drought, are more productive than other grains. </li></ul><ul><li>Bioversity worked with 200 farming families to increase the production and commercialization of three minor millets </li></ul>
  22. 22. Important Unanswered Questions <ul><li>How does agricultural biodiversity on farm contribute to household consumption diet diversity and quality? </li></ul><ul><li>How can we link agricultural diversity to improved nutrition and health outcomes and benefits and does it make an impact? </li></ul><ul><li>Can agricultural biodiversity be scaled for commercial use while maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems, and improving human health? </li></ul><ul><li>What does agricultural biodiversity imply for peri-urban and urban markets , and what do trends in urban markets imply for potential success of agricultural biodiversity? </li></ul><ul><li>How can we better use and promote local knowledge of agricultural biodiversity to improve the health of households? </li></ul>