Climate-Smart Crops for global food and nutrition security

millet crops

Did you know that smart-climate crops such as tubers, pulses and millets can adapt to a wide range of agro-climatic conditions while also giving good performance even under marginal growing conditions? This is according to Food Science and Canada Research Chair, University of Manitoba, Professor Trust Beta.

Professor Beta was presenting at the CSIR 7th Biennial (virtual) Conference on 11 November 2020 alongside, International Potato Centre Senior (CIP) Scientist, Dr Tawanda Muzhingi and CSIR Principle Researcher, Dr Nomusa Dlamini.

Hosted by AUDA-NEPAD SANBio Network Manager, Dr Ereck Chakauya, Professor Beta’s presentation explored how indigenous small grains can play a vital role in addressing Southern Africa’s nutrition and food security challenges.

Climate-smart crops are defined by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations as agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, removes/reduces GHGs (mitigation) where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.

Sub-Sahara Africa is home of the most food insecure people; The region faces a serious challenge of malnutrition in children, and some of this is not always visible as children suffer specific micronutrient deficiencies, such as Vitamin A and iron deficiencies, - usually described as “hidden hunger”.

To mitigate these challenges, CIP scientist, Dr Tawanda Muzhingi believes a new technology known as biofortification – which is the process of increasing the nutrient content of staple food crops – could be a promising tool in the global effort to mitigate this threat.

“125g of biofortified Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potato (OFSP) provides close to 100% the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for children. Biofortified crops such as OFSP, can play a more significant role to provide key micronutrients (vitamin A) at large scale. About 50 million African farmers produce close to 7 million tons of sweetpotato annually, and mainly for human consumption. This therefore make this crops a powerful vehicle for securing food nutrition,” Dr Muzhingi.

Furthermore, research has also shown that consuming OFSP reduces VAD, which causes blindness, stunting and other ailments in young children and mothers across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Muzhingi’s work is focused on coming up with innovative strategies to add value to biofortification of OFSP and diversifying the ways in which it can be consumed, stored and utilised.

His latest work includes promoting the use of OFSP purée by bakeries in order to catalyse new value chains for the crop, which in turn will get more farmers growing and more rural families eating OFSP roots.

While climate change directly affects food availability through its increasingly adverse impacts on crop, animal productivity, health and fish stocks – Southern African biodiversity can also be used to help reduce malnutrition.

According to CSIR Principle Researcher, Dr Nomusa Dlamini, Southern Africa has over 24 000 indigenous plant species which can contribute to improve the region’s nutrition profile.

“Indigenous crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet and Bambara nut are nutrient rich, hardy crops but are currently underutilised, Dr Dlamini explained.”

Dr Dlamini’s project (Nutri Drink) has therefore developed an instant sorghum based dry pre-mix containing milled organic vegetable drink, targeted at children, pregnant women and the elderly in order to address the problem of nutrition deficiency.

The Nutri Drink was first formulated by the CSIR and tested in an integrated nutrition intervention pilot programme in five schools in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Studies showed that the health drink improved nutritional status of school children.

Dr Nomusa has also produced indigenous products such as Mopane polony like product, snacks, soup powder, stew; Marula tea products and; Amadumbe chips products to mention a few.

As climate change continues to play a dominant role in agriculture and food security, climate-smart crops are vital to improving food security, and the need to integrate them in the global value chain is as equally important in the quest to benefit smallholder farmers and enhance food security. The benefits of integrating climate-smart crops are enormous given the nexus between diet, health and environmental sustainability.

To watch ‘Integrating climate-smart crops into global value chains and to address food security in Africa’ webinar, please click here