Conference aims to feed a hungry world

Conference aims to feed a hungry world


Horticulture
FOOD VITAL: Kenyan nutritionist, Judith Kimiywe, Kenyatta University says improving nutrition in the lives to Africans is essential for the long-term wellbeing of families and communities and for successful economic and social advancement.

FOOD VITAL: Kenyan nutritionist, Judith Kimiywe, Kenyatta University says improving nutrition in the lives to Africans is essential for the long-term wellbeing of families and communities and for successful economic and social advancement.

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TropAg 2017 has its sights set high during the three-day conference this week, aiming to nourish the world.

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THE world's largest conference on tropical agriculture has adopted an ambitious theme beyond increasing yields and just new varieties.

The second TropAg 2017, being held in Brisbane this week, has taken on the challenge of "nourishing the world", something the 720 delegates from 50 countries have warmed to.

The theme comes down to the need to not just feed people but provide nourishing food for health and wellbeing, providing nutritional security, rather than food security.

One the speakers reflecting that theme yesterday was Kenyan nutritionist, Judith Kimiywe, Kenyatta University who spoke on drivers of food choices for dietary diversification for improved health and nutrition for vulnerable populations.

She said an understanding of the drivers of food choice would provide guidance for the development of more effective nutrition-sensitive programs.

One the keys to improving nutrition could be the better utilisation of native plant and vegetable crops.

One project involving the smallholder women farmers from the Lake Victoria Region of Africa showed promising results in educating how to utilise and prepare readily accessible vegetables for meals.

HELP NEEDED: The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture's Vivienne Anthony, Switzerland says more market-led approaches that focus on supplying demand, rather than pushing technology would help developing nations.

HELP NEEDED: The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture's Vivienne Anthony, Switzerland says more market-led approaches that focus on supplying demand, rather than pushing technology would help developing nations.

"To diversify production and diets, and improve processing methods to make healthy foods available for longer with convenient- to-prepare meals, ensures that investments are equitable and mindful of the environment," Ms Kimiywe said.

"Improving nutrition across the life course from conception through adulthood is essential for the long-term wellbeing of families and communities and for successful economic and social advancement."

When it comes to dietary diversity, Ms Kimiywe said food-based approaches require consistent and persistent education at community, household and individual levels on food production, selection and utilisation.

Another part of the program was linking farmers with markets for the purpose of initiating commercialisation of products for income.

There were similar themes within the presentation from Vivienne Anthony from the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture based in Switzerland.

She spoke in one of the horticulture concurrent sessions on exploring new approaches for sustainable funding of plant breeding in developing countries.

Her investigations show that of the 214 plant breeders working in nine African countries, only 26 are vegetable breeders.

"I would suggest that in the way we refer to breeding is to re-brand it from a cost activity to say it's an investment opportunity," Ms Anthony said.

"So often it's about what's it going to cost, not how much is it going to give back?"

She praised the Australian horticulture model of levies being paid and utilised by Horticulture Innovation Australia to support research and extension.

"The reason it works is because it's matched, matched by the government," she said.

Ms Anthony said this sort of approach could have impacts in developing nations but it would require private investors to get things rolling.  

Getting major agribusinesses to take a punt on little-known breeding programs in African nations is a big ask though.

Ms Anthony said what agribusinesses usually do is to go into possible new markets with the germplasm they've already developed, as opposed to doing the work from scratch in the country.

"It needs innovation, it needs low cost mechanisms and it needs electronic transaction so money doesn't walk where it shouldn't walk," she said.

She provided an example of a breeding development program for potatoes in Kenya as evidence it can work.

"It is possible if there are people who are willing to say, we want to try something different," she said.

"Public breeders need to reach out and partner with seed organisations and value chain players."

Last year's inaugural TropAg conference drew 500 people.

More than 200 international delegates make up the crowd that is listening in to more than 200 speakers in 35 symposia across six streams:

  • Future field crops;
  • Harnessing horticulture crops;
  • Advancing animal science;
  • Nutrition and food sciences;
  • Drivers and consequences of intensifying agriculture and food systems;
  • AgFutures Queensland

The event is backed by major sponsors, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries who incorporated the AgFutures conference into this year's TropAg conference, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

The organisation is a scholarship partner of TropAg and has supported the attendance of 25 scholars from Africa and the Asia Pacific region to attend the conference. 

The conference concludes on Wednesday. 

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