Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture in-charge of Crops, on Wednesday has called for strategies to eradicate or mitigate the loss of biodiversity and extinction of valuable but neglected crop species.
He said as a country: ?Our attention and focus should not only be on exploiting the potential of Neglected and Underutilised Species (NUS) for sustainable agriculture and livelihoods.?
He said reducing poverty, especially in the rural communities, and preserving the natural resource base for sustainable utilisation should be given the needed priority.
Dr Alhassan was speaking at the International Conference on Neglected and Underutilised Crop Species in Accra on the theme: ?Neglected and Underutilised Species for a food secure Africa?.
The three-day Pan-African Conference on NUS research was one of the activities under the capacity building project being spearheaded by the Regional Universities Forum For Capacity Building in Africa (RUFORRUM), to disseminate information on NUS through the cross fertilisation of ideas to bring to the fore, the requisite knowledge to harness the potential of the plants.
The conference provided an opportunity for policy makers, industrialists, research scientists, the private sector and other stakeholders in agriculture to develop strategies for the use of NUS to enhance the resilience of crop varieties to make them resistant to high temperature, drought, pests and diseases.
It also offered an opportunity to develop and strengthen collaborative and productive linkages with smallholder farmers to rapidly and sustainably increase food production and improved livelihood.
The Deputy Minister noted that in modern agricultural production, research is the progenitor of all seeds and since the NUS now constitute the focus of current trends to revive culinary traditions, it has become important to have engaged thought and attention.
?Consequently, special efforts are therefore needed to improve the cultivation, husbandry, harvesting and post-harvest management of the underutilised species, including studies on their marketability and nutritional status.
?The intensification of agriculture and the cultivation of major crops and commodities for Africa?s food markets, have limited food production to a narrow range of the most important food crops. Worldwide, about 7,000 edible species are available, yet only a small number of these species dominate agricultural production,? he added.
Dr Alhassan therefore expressed the hope that the conference would come out with greater understanding of the role of NUS in resilient agricultural production systems, food and nutrition security, knowledge sharing, and an action plan for strengthening research capacity in NUS within a collaborative framework with advanced research.
Mr Foday Bojang, Senior Forestry Officer, Africa Regional Office of FAO, said the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity is central to meeting the challenges of feeding a growing population.
He said the challenges require plant scientists to address among other things, adaptive technologies, research and capacity building for sustainable use of NUS.
?We are now well aware that the challenge facing world agriculture is to feed a global population estimated to exceed nine billion people in 2050. And we have to do this in a way that is sustainable, protects the environment, enhances farmers? livelihoods and provides healthy and nutritious food for all,? he said.
Mr Bojang said the current food system relies on about 20 major staples and only three of these crops- rice, wheat and maize- accounts for more than half of humanity?s energy supply, while in many regions of the world, very little attention was given to a wide range of other species like NUS, which are equally important to food security and nutrition and improved livelihoods.
He stated that many underutilised species occupies important environmental and nutritional niches, and are often better adapted than introduced species to difficult growing conditions.
He stressed the need for the incorporation of these plants into larger-scale production systems to contribute strategically in reducing poverty and hunger.
Dr Abdullai B. Salifu, Director General of Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research, said the issue of NUS had become a subject for discussion in international, national and academic circles.
He said these species are of considerable potential benefit in agriculture, medicine and industry and also has the potential to reduce poverty and alleviate hunger.
He noted that in most countries priority is given to few plants, in terms of research and production, to the detriment of the little known plants, which nevertheless has great potential in supporting rural livelihoods.
Dr Salifu therefore called for the need to adopt participatory approaches and promote partnerships among stakeholders involved in the collection, conservation, use, enhancement, marketing and commercialisation of NUS.
Dr Muheibu Mohammed-Alfa, Deputy Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, who chaired the function, called for an urgent need to project and sustain interest in NUS to promote sustainable agriculture, especially in sub-Sahara Africa.
?We need to encourage support for research and development in NUS to ensure food security, better nutrition, climate change resilience and income generation,?, he said.
He expressed the hope that the conference would enable participants to showcase the latest research advances and developments in NUS.