Fonio millet, Lablab bean or Bambara groundnuts: the rediscovered crops

Hunger and malnutrition are still widespread in large parts of Africa and Asia. Hunger and malnutrition are still widespread in large parts of Africa and Asia. Global warming and the loss of soil fertility are further exacerbating the problem. The new SWISSAID project CROPS4HD focuses on local, almost forgotten crops to improve the situation of people in the South.

Fonio millet, lablab bean and Bambara bean – hardly anyone in Europe knows these crops. For the small farmers in the South, however, these traditional cereals and pulses are essential. Many of them are very rich in nutrients, resistant to drought, and they defy pests. 

However, even in the South, such crops are neglected by research and governments and often perceived as poor people’s food. Cash crops, which promise prestige and export opportunities, are promoted instead. As a result, many farmers lose interest and plant less and less traditional cereals, beans and vegetables. In addition, many countries strictly regulate which seeds may be traded or exchanged at all. These regulations are often one-sidedly oriented towards commercial seeds, which is why traditional crops and farmers’ varieties are being further pushed back. 

Pilot project CROPS4HD brings new life to old plants

The new project CROPS4HD (Consumption of Resilient Orphan Crop for Products for Healthier Diets) aims to bring new life to old plants and reveal their huge potential for nutrition. 

CROPS4HD pursues three main goals:

  • To make traditional crops and varieties more attractive by illustrating their nutritional benefits: Many of these crops are very rich in vitamins, proteins and minerals and, therefore, have the potential – like quinoa or amaranth in recent times – to become known as superfoods. In addition, the demand for such products should be boosted so that cultivating them becomes attractive for the farmers.
  • To support farmers in improving their cultivation techniques in order to achieve good yields: Together with the local SWISSAID staff, local partners and researchers from FiBL, suitable varieties are selected and cultivated in order to improve yields, taste, nutritional value or other characteristics.
  • To strengthen farmers’ seed systems and protecting farmers’ rights to propagate, exchange and sell their seeds: In order to improve the framework for farmers’ seeds and traditional varieties, the project partners work in the focus countries, at the level of the African continent and internationally. They support farmer organisations in claiming their rights and enter into dialogue with decision-makers at different levels.

Competent and experienced project partners

SWISSAID is implementing the pilot project together with FiBL and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in AFRICA (AFSA). AFSA is the largest civil society movement in Africa and has extensive experience in advocacy and agroecology. APBREBES and GRAIN are two other non-governmental organisations that are committed to farmers’ rights. 

In a first step, the partners are implementing the project together in Niger, Chad, Tanzania and India. The experience gained shall be transferable to other countries.

The consortium of SWISSAID, AFSA and FiBL was able to prevail over 93 other applicants from all over the world in a competitive call process. The experience and expertise of the organisations involved complement each other perfectly, which played a decisive role in winning the contract.