Unlocking the health potential of local biodiversity

  • 30th May 2018
  • by secretary
A traditional food fair in Busia County.
Credit: John Ndungu, 2015

28 May 2018. Busia has become the first of Kenya’s 47 counties to endorse a Biodiversity Conservation Policy. Emphasizing the economic and nutritional potential of underutilized crops, this policy represents the culmination of Bioversity International’s efforts bringing together farmers, public stakeholders, researchers, and government representatives to promote increased production and consumption of indigenous species.

Located in Western Kenya, Busia County is home to a range of indigenous crops typically found only in smallholder farms and household gardens. Although many of these plants are associated with local culture and traditional health practices, their cultivation is low compared to that of staple crops like maize.

However, nutrient-rich native species offer a promising solution to the region’s high rates of malnutrition (over 26%), stunting, anemia, and other dietary deficiencies. Since 2012, the Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition Initiative has partnered with Kenyan universities and research institutes to conduct nutrient analyses of local crops; for example, the African nightshade (see picture), which contains 16 times more iron than kale.

In addition, locally-adapted crops can tolerate harsh environmental conditions (finger millet and Bambara groundnut are pest and drought-resistant), making them sustainable growing choices that build smallholder farmer resilience.

The GEF ‘Mainstreaming biodiversity for nutrition and health’ initiative is led by Brazil, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey and coordinated by Bioversity International, with implementation support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and additional support from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

It was launched in April 2012 to address growing concerns over the rapid disappearance of agricultural biodiversity, particularly traditional crops and wild species with nutritional potential.

In Kenya, the initiative has been supported by The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and partnerships with local farmer group Sustainable Income and Generating Investment (SINGI) and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO). For more details visit: www.b4fn.org