Crop Diversification Through a Wider Use of Underutilised Crops: A Strategy to Ensure Food and Nutrition Security in the Face of Climate Change
Global dependence on only a few crops for food and non-food uses is risky due to the multifaceted challenges that crop production faces. One such challenge is climate change and its effects on food production. Emerging evidence suggests that climate change will cause shifts in crop production areas and yield loss due to more unpredictable and hostile weather patterns. The shrinking list of crops that feed the world, has also been attributed to reported reduced agricultural biodiversity and increased genetic uniformity for yield traits in crop plants. This could lead to crop vulnerability to the dangers of pests and diseases. Part of the solution to these problems lies with crop diversification through a wider use of underutilised and minor crops. Underutilised, minor or neglected crop plants are plant species that are indigenous rather than adapted introductions, which often form a complex part of the culture and diets of the people who grow them. The wider use of underutilised crops would increase agricultural biodiversity (genetic, species and ecosystem) to buffer against crop vulnerability to climate change, pests and diseases and would provide the quality of food and diverse food sources to address both food and nutritional security.
There is evidence to suggest that people are increasingly changing their attitude in favour of crop diversification instead of specialisation on a few major crop species. This chapter provides a background on crop diversification and discusses the potential roles of underutilised crops to address major global concerns such as food and nutrition security, agricultural biodiversity, climate change, environmental degradation and future livelihoods.
Cultivating more than one variety of crops belonging to the same or different species within a region, using multiple cropping, agroforestry and/or crop rotation systems, with diversity evident in form (e.g. genetic, species, structural), function (e.g. pest suppression, increased production) and scale (temporal and spatial) (Lin 2011; Makate et al. 2016).
The incorporation of trees or shrubs within a cropping system as part of crop diversification to maximise the benefits of interactions between the various biological components.
A temporal approach to crop diversification by systematically varying the crops planted on a given plot between seasons, for example cultivating maize in summer and peas in the following season.
A spatial approach to crop diversification by systematically cultivating two or more crops in a given plot within the same season, for example, cultivating maize and peas simultaneously on the same piece of land.
Increase in the productivity of land as determined by the value of agricultural output, which can be market-driven (e.g. production of higher value crops) or technologically driven (e.g. better cropping practices) (Byerlee et al. 2014).
Focus on a single activity within a farming system, with the activity providing at least two-thirds of the farm income.
“The right of a nation or region to produce, distribute or consume food with appropriate productive and cultural diversity” (Altieri 2009).
A measure of a community’s exposure to stresses (social and/or environmental), sensitivity to the stresses, and ability to adapt (McCord et al. 2015).
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