Traditionally, Africans made use of edible fruits and leaves of plant species growing wild as weeds. These edible plants were well-known to the rural communities and were often collected from the wild or planted in home gardens as intercrops with staples. For some indigenous fruits and vegetables, wild collection is still practiced, especially in southern Africa and parts of eastern and western Africa. Recent surveys reveal that indigenous fruits and vegetables were consumed by the rural populations for nutrition and food security. The hidden potential of indigenous fruits and vegetables needs to be exploited to play a pivotal role in solving malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty challenges facing Africa.
(Keynote paper, finals of the ‘Women in Science’ competition)Horticultural biodiversity which was once an integral part of African diets should have been part of the celebrations of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. However, with the introduction of exotic temperate crops, indigenous green vegetables lost popularity in Africa and are regarded mostly as ‘weeds’ or ‘poor man’s food’. With over 50% of the African population living below the poverty line, resulting in malnutrition and poor health, there is need for a paradigm shift in food production patterns to harness the nutrition and economic potential of indigenous vegetables and fruits. Agrobiodiversity has a crucial part to play in revolutionalising the horticultural sector for food security, nutrition, income and sustainable development in Africa. This article outlines strategies and recommendations that could be used to raise the status of agrobiodiversity in the continent.Article taken from the 2011 CTA/FARA publication ‘Agricultural Innovations for Sustainable Development’ Volume 3, Issue 2.
Agricultural productivity in most sub-Saharan countries is 2-3 times lower than the world average and the production gap between developing and developed countries is widening. This situation is reflected in the production of most horticultural commodities in which per capita productivity has declined. Today’s farmers produce less per hectare than their grandparents. When an increase in production is reported, a notable increase in land under production is the cause and not increased productivity per unit area. Major factors contributing to this decline are poor soils, decreasing land resources, minimal access to irrigation (only 4% of the land used for agricultural production is under irrigation) and drought which affects 33% of crops produced for food slightly and another 25% severely. What mix of knowledge and technologies is required to expand production and increase productivity in Africa that can contribute to improving food, nutrition and income security? How can economies of scale be created?
Horticulture worldwide has been dominated by a product oriented approach, i.e. producers do their best to create attractive and maybe delicious products and then try to sell them. In a local context, this approach has worked well for the last 20 millennia; however, in the present day situation, where most retail corporations source their products globally it will not suffice. Due to the evolution of the world wide food web, supply now exceeds the demand in most cases. In order to compete in this market, producers and suppliers must be able to differentiate products from average suppliers. The distinctions developed must be perceived as valuable by the customers. Therefore it all starts with knowing what customers expect and appreciate both now and in the future.
In this article, Majeed Mohammed conducts an assessment of the pumpkin post-harvest handling system in Trinidad and Tobago. The study also looks at the human, infrastructural and institutional capacity and the information/data gaps for better policy formulation. Mohammed provides an estimation of post-harvest losses of pumpkin at various market outlets at critical stages in the handling system during dry and wet seasons in Trinidad and Tobago and notes that post-harvest losses varied according to growing season and type of market outlet. Dry and wet season pumpkin postharvest losses were highest at export markets and lowest at wholesale markets, for example. Each step in the handling system (harvest, transportation, curing, sorting, packaging, and storage) is assessed and causes for losses identified. It is clear that multiple handling along the marketing chain influences the cumulative levels of deterioration in quality, and ultimately the magnitude of post-harvest losses. Mohammed provides an in-depth account of post-harvest training, research and outreach institutions in Trinidad and Tobago, and detailed descriptions of each institution's specific function and roles in knowledge creation and capacity development. While various academic departments, international development organisations and public agencies all provide for post-harvest research and training, major hindrances affecting the flow of information still exist. In Trinidad and Tobago, the best sources of information for producers and marketers are 'trial and error', garden shops, and fellow professionals, while it was found that research institutes and farmers training centres only reach around 15% of farmers. Extension, mainstream media and associations have no significant impact. As the government of Trinidad and Tobago is building packing houses across the country and infrastructure for the development of value-added products, Mohammed also recommends better extension for farmers and processors: demonstrations on pumpkin farms at harvest time, development of standards, handling procedure and best practices, introduction of low cost processing technology, etc. Participants at a follow-up workshop clearly identified extension and training as the priority for the sector.