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Neglected Underutilized crop Species (NUS) along the entire value chain - their importance showcased at the United Nations

In recognition to the importance that Neglected Underutilized crop Species (NUS) have gained in recent years, Cranfield University - partner of the EWABELT Project (GA 862848) - has been evaluating their environmental, social and economic impact along the entire value chain, with particular attention dedicated to fonio in Ghana, presented during the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference on April 12, 2024 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.


"We analyzed fonio value chain contribution to the development of a sustainable farming system in Ghana. This analysis was done with regards to its contribution to the five sustainability measurement domains of productivity, the environment, the economy, the social and the human condition."


Watch the statements by the speakers on our "SI in Africa" Joint YouTube channel


Neglected and Underutilized crop Species, commonly known as NUS, orphan crops, or forgotten crops, have received more attention in the past decade. 

Indeed, the intensification of agriculture, in particular the Green Revolution, has led to a reduction in the number of cultivated species, and a large homogenization of diets and farming landscapes, leaving aside, concerning research and economics, a large number of species, yet still cultivated. These are regaining prominence in a context of greater attention to food and nutrition sovereignty and security, poverty reduction, and increasing the resilience and sustainability of agricultural systems. 


As part of the EWA-BELT project, the choice of species studied was made by the various partners about the development potential of the species, in terms of yield or nutritional properties, drought tolerance, disease resistance, and commercial value.


Among other species, fonio has been extensively studied and evaluated, acknowledging to the potential it offers to African food systems. Within the Project, fonio has been promoted in various countries. However, in Ghana, it has gained prominent importance for the involved farmers, on-the-field agents and researchers. This is why Cranfield University decided to deepen the production, environmental, economic, social and human impacts.


Learn more about the topic with Dr John Bidzakin, Research Fellow at Cranfield University in the UK who illustrated the significance of this crop along the entire value chain during the second session of the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference dedicated to the Project on the theme “Poverty eradication and hunger: a first challenging priority for AI” on April 12, 2024 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.


“Thank you very much for the opportunity, my name is John Bidzakin. I'm talking about Neglected Underutilized Crop Species, and the case of fonio value chains in Ghana. Fonio has many uses in Ghana especially when it comes to rural food diversity and nutrition.  Fonio has many benefits such as low input use requirement, rich nutritional profile, contribution to food security, it is drought tolerant, and it grows well on marginal lands.
Despite these benefits, fonio production in Ghana has been on the decline and it has been classified as an underutilized crop. To change this narrative, there is the need to try to understand what is happening within the chain hence the motivation for the value chain analysis. Basically, what we did was to analyze the chain to identify what opportunities existed in the chain and what challenges were there to help identify and recommend solutions to leverage the opportunities in the chain. 
To allow for an in-depth analysis, we broke the chain into various nodes of producers, aggregators, processors, traders and then consumers. The analysis was done at all these nodes. SWOT analyses were done at the various nodes with key stakeholders. The SWOT analyses identified the strengths and opportunities that constitute the benefits and then the weaknesses and threats were also identified which constitute the challenges. The challenges provide upgrading opportunities. The challenges were ranked in order of importance to prioritize them. The first ranked challenge was poor access to mechanization services, the second was lack of new input varieties, the third was lack of knowledge in terms of new innovations, then poor market access, low level of fonio processing (most of it is sold as grain) and low adoption of fonio legume intercropping.
We also assessed the financial and market performance of the various nodes to determine their financial viability and that of the entire chain. The indicators used were; net margins, share of market margins, return on investment, and benefit-cost ratios. The results show that the various nodes were financially viable and the entire value chain was viable.
We analyzed fonio value chain contribution to the development of a sustainable farming system in Ghana. This analysis was done with regards to its contribution to the five sustainability measurement domains of productivity, the environment, the economy, the social and the human condition. For the productivity domain, it can contribute to increased yields because the current yields are around 700 kilograms per hectare and there’s the potential to increase that to 1400 kilograms per hectare with the adoption of new innovations.
There is an opportunity to increase farm sizes because fonio can grow very well on marginal lands which are readily available to farm households. Increased production of fonio can also be achieved through multiple cropping per year due to the very short production cycle (8 weeks maximum). There are high pre- and post-harvest losses that occur in fonio production and with the introduction of new innovations and AI platforms like the PlantHead, these pre- and post-harvest losses can be reduced significantly. In terms of the environment, fonio has the potential to restore marginal lands. Fonio is also a low-input demanding crop. 
For the economy, it is a profitable venture. Fonio has gained international recognition and it is contributing to the global food market. It provides opportunities for job creation, especially for the youth at this time of very high unemployment rates in Ghana. In terms of the social domain, it is a gender-friendly crop and it is grown by both women and men, and it has the potential to preserve cultural heritage. In terms of land-related conflicts, it has the potential to help reduce land-related conflicts.  In the human domain, fonio has a rich nutritional profile and it is a very good food security crop, especially during the lean periods when food is very scarce. Fonio is one of the crops that is first harvested. 
The policy recommendations that are suggested considering all these findings include:
  • Increase access to cost-effective, labor-friendly mechanization services at the production and processing nodes of the value chain.

  • Facilitate access to international fonio markets where demand is growing.

  • Access to certified fonio seeds should be prioritized. 

  • Increase funding to fonio research, particularly for variety development

  • Promote fonio and legume intercropping as a strategy for degraded farmlands

  • Sensitise stakeholders to fonio commercialization opportunities and consumers to fonio nutritional benefits.

In summary, fonio has the potential to contribute to food security, household income, environmental sustainability, and sustainable farming systems when boosted especially in regions with severe land degradation, high food insecurity and climate variability. To achieve this there is the need to promote fonio research, facilitate access to basic production and processing tools, improve verities, increase value addition, stimulate stakeholder interest, and increase market access.”

Drawing from the insights emerged from the statements of the participants - stay tuned for more! - OCCAM drafted the Final declaration of the Conference, which includes suggestions, proposals and recommendations at all levels to cope with an ever-changing world where technologies, if adequately oriented and regulated, could be beneficial to a global socio-economic development in view of e-welfare for all, in the respect of human rights and UN principles. 


Alongside it, OCCAM outlined the Plan of Action that encompasses all the operative instances that emerged towards the achievement of the SDGs and the UN 2030 Agenda, dedicating particular attention to the best practices of the EWABELT Project and promoting scientific and policy recommendations for the benefit of the most disadvantaged communities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. 



For media inquiries, please contact:

OCCAM - Observatory on Digital Communication



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