Farmer collectives, research, policy and advocacy institutions in Central Asia and Asia-Pacific region called for an urgent change to the prevailing yield-for-immediate-profit structure of agriculture. Their proposal of a multi-functional diversified agri-food structure, hinging on Forgotten Foods to reap benefits for the planet, farmers and consumers, will guide a global manifesto set to be presented at the UN Food Systems Summit later this year.
The Regional Consultation on Forgotten Foods in Asia-Pacific held on 28 May 2021 aimed to improve recognition of Forgotten Foods by multiple stakeholders in agriculture. “Together with farmers and other innovation actors in the Asia-Pacific region, we need to define the change needed for research systems and value chain,” said Dr Ravi Khetarpal, Executive Secretary, Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). With 250 participants from around the world, the consultation resulted in a regional manifesto on Forgotten Foods.
Forgotten Foods or Neglected and Underutilized Crops (NUS), traditionally cultivated among many indigenous communities, are families of crops that have over time suffered the wrath of food consumption trends and eating habits. The industrialization of agriculture pushed them away from the global agricultural and research systems. Popular for being nutrient-dense and requiring low inputs for production, these forgotten foods or crops include pseudocereals, small millets, grain legumes, tuber crops, sea buckthorn and minor fruits.
“The focus now should be combining food and nutrition security with the need for environmentally sustainable diets,” said Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General – External Relations, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). “We should go one step further and incorporate the farmer; ensuring our food is good for you, the planet and the farmer.”
Farmers, development professionals, scientists, and government officials from the regions discussed ways to bring Forgotten Foods back to farms, into research and policy agendas and onto consumers’ tables.
“There is a huge need to address productivity and quality in forgotten grains,” said Dr Birte Komolong, Program Director, Agricultural Systems, National Agricultural Research Centre, Papua New Guinea.
A recent regional survey found that majority of small farmers are in favour of bringing back forgotten foods if financial support and market linkages are in place. “The traditional seeds and the knowledge to grow them are very important. Our focus should be on preserving, growing and, conserving this knowledge around traditional seeds,” emphasized Ms Salome, a farmer representative.
Equally important is investment in sustainable agricultural technologies, innovative processes for capacity development and advocacy for innovation in food diversification that will reward small farmers and consumers in Asia-Pacific and beyond. “Food diversification is required to ensure climate-resilient nutrition,” stressed Prof. Sayed Azam-Ali, Chief Executive Officer, Crops for the Future.
The regional manifesto on Forgotten Foods in Asia-Pacific is expected to create new opportunities for transforming local, regional, and global paradigms to enhance crop diversity and create new pathways for smallholder farmers. It will promote a participatory approach in building a resilient community that will acknowledge indigenous farmers’ knowledge to accelerate change and bring together new practices of research. It also envisages a participatory seeds system that improves access, availability and promotes opportunities for conservation.
A similar consultation was held in May for Africa. Regional manifestos are being developed to inform a global manifesto that will be presented at the UN Food Systems Summit in September. Consequently, a ‘Global Plan of Action on Forgotten Food’ is envisaged.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Consultation was led by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI) in partnership with the Global Forum of Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR), Alliance Bioversity-CIAT and Crop for Future, as well as the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA), MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Barli Development Institute for Rural Women (BDIRW).