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    Africa’s ‘forgotten’ foods research wins prestigious US Cozzarelli Prize

    An international research team has won the 2023 Cozzarelli Prize for a paper on the potential of ‘forgotten’ food crops in sub-Saharan Africa to provide healthy diets in a changing climate.
    Source: © Ollivier Girad/CIFOR-ICRAF  Fifty-eight ‘forgotten’ food crops in sub-Saharan Africa have been identified as able to provide healthy diets in a changing climate
    Source: © Ollivier Girad/CIFOR-ICRAF CIFOR–ICRAF Fifty-eight ‘forgotten’ food crops in sub-Saharan Africa have been identified as able to provide healthy diets in a changing climate

    Led by the World Vegetable Centre (WorldVeg), and including scientists from the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), the research was one of six papers selected by the editorial board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – a prestigious scientific journal based in Washington, DC in the US.

    Papers were chosen from more than 3,000 open-access research articles that appeared in the journal last year and represent the six broadly defined classes under which the National Academy of Sciences is organised.

    Multidisciplinary scientists

    The study, selected in the Applied Biological, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences category of the Cozzarelli Prize, involved multidisciplinary scientists from the University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin), the National Taiwan University, and Scotland’s Rural College in Edinburgh.

    The study used climate modelling to assess the potential of 138 traditional food plants that could diversify or replace staple crops.

    It identified 58 that are micronutrient-rich and are suitable for integration into cropping systems under current and projected climatic conditions.

    The authors concluded that diversifying food production in Africa with these neglected ‘opportunity crops’ improves both the dietary health and climate resilience of food systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

    “Our study shows that in most locations where major staples are currently grown in sub-Saharan Africa, one or more forgotten food crops from different food groups will be suitable for cultivation under 2070 climate conditions – and can diversify major staples to support more nutrient-rich diets,” says Maarten van Zonneveld, head of genetic resources at WorldVeg in Taiwan.

    Improve climate resilience and dietary health

    The research was part of various initiatives that the study’s collaborating partners are involved in.

    WorldVeg is the only organisation with a global mandate for vegetable research and development – including traditional crops – and works closely with the paper’s co-authors in Benin and Taiwan.

    CIFOR-ICRAF scientists were involved in the modelling and data analysis, and built on their rich experience with tree and shrub foods.

    “Our results suggest that diversifying sub-Saharan African food production with forgotten food crops could improve climate resilience and dietary health,” says Stepha McMullin, a development specialist at CIFOR-ICRAF in Kenya.

    “But to successfully mainstream these foods, it is crucial that we work closely with both local producers and consumers.

    “At CIFOR–ICRAF, we already work with rural communities in East and Southern Africa to do this, by designing and implementing locally tailored food tree portfolios.”

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