Food and Livelihood Resilience from Neglected Plant Species in Western and Southern Africa (FORENS)

Food and Livelihood Resilience from Neglected Plant Species in Western and Southern Africa (FORENS)

Food security is one of the major sustainability challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Ensuring food security has been encapsulated in a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), namely SDG2 (Zero Hunger), which has substantial interlinkages with multiple other SDGs such as SDG3 (Good Health and Wellbeing), SD13 (Climate Action), and SDG15 (Life on Land), among others.

Currently, there is high food insecurity and food-deficits in many parts of SSA, and especially in its semi-arid regions. There is a clear policy need and mandate for a massive and coordinated effort to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition in the continent in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner. However, the currently underperforming agricultural systems, endemic rural poverty, increasing environmental degradation, and restrictive land use and agricultural policies, all hamper the sufficient production of food crop through conventional agricultural systems at the yields necessary to cater for the growing food needs of the equally growing population. Ongoing climate change adds further challenges to the ability of conventional agricultural systems to deliver the needed food needed by the region’s rising population.

Achieving food security under the resource-poor conditions of Africa requires the use of all potential food sources. The neglected species in Africa have a huge untapped potential. In the semi-arid regions of Africa (e.g., the Sahel and the Southern Africa semiarid lands), the use of native, nutritious plants has been an important asset for food security, particularly during the mega-drought period and seasonally to compensate for temporal food deficit. With emerging "modern" agriculture, the set of the crops used is often reduced to three major ones (i.e., rice, maize, wheat), while Africa has a large diversity of plants that can be a source of healthy food and could help reduce the food and nutrition deficit in climate-sensitive areas.

Within this context, the Food and Livelihood Resilience from Neglected Plant Species in Western and Southern Africa (FORENS) project seeks to set the core knowledge that can be used to accelerate food production in Africa while contributing to climate change mitigation-adaptation, support agrobiodiversity, and improve human health through balanced diets. This knowledge is being created using transdisciplinary methods that combine the use of local knowledge on the uses and practices, the agronomic and agroecological sciences of these plants, and the social-economic potential of select neglected and underutilised species (NUS). The work is being implemented in Burkina Faso, Senegal, and South Africa, with various partners involved.

The project aims to support/inform various policies on food security, rural development, and climate change in the target countries. The core knowledge will be disseminated in the form of replicable toolkits and comprehensive information about neglected species to aid benchmarking and scaling-up. This information will ultimately be used for capacity building with stakeholders to understand and develop the adoption and wider use of neglected plants to address endemic food deficit in semi-arid lands.

The specific objectives of the FORENS project are to:

  1. Identify the mechanisms and pathways through which NUS enhance the resilience of agro-ecosystems and local communities.
  2. Identify the local characteristics, uses, and traits of selected NUS that increase their resilience to environmental change.
  3. Identify the factors that affect the adoption and utilisation of selected NUS at the household level and the associated impacts on livelihoods and food.
  4. Explore future potential and scaling-up opportunities for selected NUS.
  5. Develop policy and practice recommendations and training material on NUS benefits and disseminate these to appropriate end users to enhance NUS visibility.