Watch your back…

A chance encounter at GCARD2 leads to insights on the importance of local agricultural biodiversity. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

“The most dangerous risk of all – The risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later”. That’s on the wallpaper picture of my laptop. While attending the morning session on Sustainable use of Biodiversity I heard this voice behind me asking, “So…are you doing that?” I turned around to find Monica Kapiriri Namumbya from Uganda, waiting for an answer. “Well, I try to, it’s not always easy,” I replied nervously.

Meanwhile, Kwesi Atta-Krah from the CGIAR delivered some shocking facts we must face over the next 40 years. Together with an increase of 40% in the world’s population and the changing diet habits of emerging economies, food production needs to double to match the demand. We are supposed to repeat in 40 years what we’ve done in 12,000. Sounds challenging at the least.

Then, R.D. Ghodake from the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), while showing a pyramid, told us that there are almost 400,000 estimated vegetables in the world; 300,000 known; 30,000 edible; 300 explain almost 95% of world consumption and only 4 crops are the main ingredients of world food.

To be honest the presentations became a little bit abstract and Monica came to the rescue with a wonderful reflection at the Q & A space at the end. She told us that being a child, her father forced her to eat yams, which she hated. I believe we all can relate to something our parents made us eat despite our complains (broccoli in my case). Many years later, outside Kampala (capital of Uganda) while visiting a rural market she met a farmer trying to sell her yams. She declined the offer, but the salesman insisted, saying how good it was for her health, with nutritional arguments and other medical evidence that finally made Monica change her mind.

She took it back home and there some friends cooked it for her. The secret was not boiling it as her father did, but using steam instead. The dish was a success among her friends and when trying to get more, they couldn’t find a place where to buy it at a reasonable price. Monica then managed to get some seeds, but when looking for guidance on how to plant them no one could help her. Of course, the seeds didn’t germinate.

As she pointed out, this is a great example of managing agrodiversity for sustainable agriculture. The yam only grows in Africa. Specifically in Uganda they have 38 varieties, which include the kyetumura that Monica tried to cultivate. More knowledge is needed on this. Not only for farmers, but for the general population as well. Including local species in the diet is a cultural issue, but the production side needs to be taught – and that can be done.

I was lucky enough to share lunch with Monica after the session. I found out she is an independent consultant and facilitator working in different development programs. She has a background in forestry. She has some important worries on the private sector participation in the agriculture in Africa. For example, investment in gene banks leads to patents, and in some cases farmers need to start paying for species they previously cultivated for free. NGO’s should monitor this issue closely, trying to make seeds public goods that are free to access.

Meeting inspiring people like Monica is what GCARD2 is all about for me.

Blogpost by Santiago Fernández, one of the GCARD2 social reporters.


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