GFAR blog, Partnerships for impact, Research in society

All aboard the Chachafruto Express


The chachafruto (‘basul,’ Erythrina edulis), a leguminous tree native to the Andean region that produces large and sweet beans inside its pods, reminds me of my childhood in eastern Antioquia, Colombia. During the harvest season, the beans were used to produce delicious and super nutritious cakes. It was so popular that one of the local chivas, rustic colourful buses used in rural Colombia and Ecuador, was called ‘Chachafruto Express.’ Today we still enjoy the beauty of some chachafrutos in the valleys, but as food it has been relegated to the past.

The history of the chachafruto reflects a global landscape. Bioversity International and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) have identified 1,097 cultivated vegetable species with nutritional relevance and yet only 7% of them are widely used today. Other studies show that the vegetal diversity we find in grocery shops and supermarkets all around the world is more and more homogeneous, as the variety of cereals, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables and animals that are part of our diets is progressively decreasing.

Quinoa varieties from the Peruvian Andes. Credit: Bioversity International/A. Camacho

This economic and development process is not improving nutrition. While nutritionists recommend a consumption of at least 400g of vegetables and fruits per day, the supply only covers 78% of global needs and this shortfall rises to 50% in some low-income countries. This homogenization process is also accelerating biodiversity loss, promoting farming systems that are more vulnerable to climate change, and contributing to loss of well-being for millions of producers and consumers.

To some extent, using different approaches, we are starting to see a reversal of this trend, promoting hundreds of forgotten, neglected or underutilized crops. There are successful cases like the one of quinoa, which went from being an almost forgotten crop to become recognised as a nutritious ‘superfood’ with an increasing market in America and Europe. Bioversity International works with quinoa farmers in the Andean region, to incentivise them to maintain the many varieties that do not have a global market currently.

Peruvian farmer selecting quinoa varieties. Credit: Bioversity International/A. Camacho

Some countries, as well as multilateral agencies and the private sector, are betting on this new vein of opportunities and development. Unilever (Knorr), for example, together with organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), published a report earlier this year that identifies and bets on 50 foods, prioritized according to their nutritional value, taste, accessibility and affordability – based on the recent FAO definition of sustainable diets. Other characteristics such as productivity, climate adaptability, environmental impact, diversity and amounts of critical nutrients were used to put together this portfolio of orphaned crops with huge potential.

To rescue many of these crops, governments need to implement programmes that promote their use and cultural integration among key population groups. For instance, there are pilot feeding programmes for schools and for pregnant adolescent girls and young mothers that work effectively in various parts of the world. The conservation of these orphan crops with high potential, their nutritional content, the development of post-harvest and primary processing technologies that save time and costs, as well as the establishment of value chains with low intermediation and with empowered communities of producers, accelerate with the involvement of the public sector. Small and medium enterprises that promote healthy foods, as well as famous chefs who incorporate them into their recipes, are also important allies.

Chefs training women’s groups on cooking traditional foods in Nairobi, Kenya. Credit: Bioversity International/Y. Morimoto

We must fight today’s monotonous diet. 75% of what we consume depends on only 12 crops and 5 animal species. Nourishing the predicted population of 10 billion people by 2050 requires the diversification of the food supply and of the ways we produce our food. The chachafruto and hundreds of other forgotten crops represent a huge, untapped reservoir of opportunities.

This article is adapted by Impakter from the original ‘Expreso chachafruto’ which appeared on Portafolio. Read the original here.

Photo-5-150x150About the Author : Juan Lucas Restrepo

Juan Lucas Restrepo joined as the Director General of Bioversity International on 1 March 2019 and will become CEO of the Alliance between Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in 2020. A Colombian and French national, Juan Lucas has worked in the agricultural domain, both in public and private sectors, for the past 25 years. He has significant experience in policy, value chains, markets and in leading agricultural research. He has supported the work of CGIAR through the various governance roles he held over the years in the Committee of Genetic Resources, Oversight and Executive Committees, and as the representative of the Colombian Government on the CIAT Board of Directors as an ex-officio member. Among other positions, Juan Lucas has served as the Vice Minister of the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Chief Commercial Officer of the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers, and for the last eight years as the Executive Director of AGROSAVIA, the largest agricultural research organization of the country. During his time in AGROSAVIA, he has helped strengthen its reputation, human resources, finance and infrastructure. Most importantly, he helped set up its novel collaborative schemes for research, knowledge management and innovation that have contributed to improvements in the quantity and quality of the organization’s outcomes and overall impact. As its Chair, Juan Lucas also led the Global Forum for Agricultural Research and Innovation (GFAR), hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), and its efforts to better integrate the agricultural research for development community, with change and innovation by farmers. He also participated in the negotiations on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture where he served as head of the Colombian delegation. In 2017, Juan Lucas led a government effort in Colombia that resulted in a National Agricultural Innovation System, which will facilitate research, education and extension, and promote innovation by farmers, help improve their livelihoods and protect and recover natural capital. He holds a degree in civil engineering from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, and a Master of Science in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University in the USA. Follow Juan Lucas Restrepo on Twitter: @jlucasrestrepo

In the Featured Photo: Peace Weekend in Najaf — Featured Photo Credit: Chachafruto (Erythrina edulis). Credit: Alejandro Bayer Tamayo

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