Blog post by Dr Joyce Mulila-Mitti, Crops Officer, Crop Production and Protection, FAO Regional Office, Accra, Ghana

 Dr Joyce Mulila-Mitti, Crops Officer, Crop Production and Protection, FAO Regional Office, Accra, GhanaThe world continues to experience huge deficits in food needs both in terms of quality and quantity to feed the ever-growing population. The food gap in terms of quantity is particularly pronounced in developing countries where agricultural production and productivity gaps remain significantly higher than the global averages. This scenario is particularly true for Africa for most agricultural commodities.

The food quality problem, on the other hand, affects people in both developing and developed countries. It manifests as malnutrition (poor nutrition); either as under-nutrition (inadequate calorific intake or incomplete nutrients/diet intake) or over-nutrition (excessive and leading to obesity/or nutrient imbalance). Cases of under-nutrition are predominantly characterized by low protein intake in the diet. In most instances where such exists, the protein deficiency in the diet is a reflection of the narrow range of food crops that are grown and consumed. Such diets are predominantly composed of cereals and/or root and tubers with minimal amounts of food legumes required to provide adequate protein to meet ideal dietary needs. At the production systems level, this is reflected in inadequate integration of legumes in the farming systems.

In more affluent economies however, there is a tendency to consume large quantities of non-vegetable sources of protein higher than the recommended daily allowance. It has been observed that the more developed a nation becomes, the more its people aspire to consume large quantities of non-vegetable protein in their diets. This situation calls for increased livestock production which in turn requires that substantial agricultural production inputs- particularly more land and water, are utilized to meet the ever growing affluent population demand for non-vegetable diets. In addition, both cereals and legumes are major ingredients in feeds required in the production of livestock. This food that goes to feed livestock could go towards feeding the hungry and protein deficient millions of the world. In addition, the availability of more food legume crop residues for incorporation in soils would contribute to improved soil fertility status resulting in more sustainable production systems needed to improve productivity gains to meet global food needs.

In most African countries where legume production is low, the key factors that cause this situation are technological, socio-economic, institutional as well as political. In several countries, the overwhelming constraint is that of poor access to quality seed of improved varieties of legume crops. Interventions to address this problem require that community-based seed production systems are developed with strong support for capacity development of seed growers associations that sustainably continue to be a regular source of seeds for the various legume crops of choice. For such viable systems to succeed, there is a need to create awareness of the value of legumes in the diet (promotion of proper utilization in the diet in various forms), processing, marketing opportunities, as well as influencing policy interventions particularly those that support the linkage of farmers to private sector support for adequate investment in the promotion of legume production and provision of markets.

Recently, more and more projects for increased productivity of legumes are including components of promoting food legume utilization at both home and medium to large-scale industrial levels; building a base for appreciation of the consumption of legume-based products at all levels. For example, a Common Funds for Commodity (CFC) supported project for promotion of soybean value chains among smallholders in Malawi and Mozambique and executed by IITA is working with the Ministries of Agriculture and several key stakeholders in the soybean sector. The project, through active participation of private actors has made great strides in diversification of soybean products at both home and industrial levels; contributing to the consumption of soy-based products in the two countries.

The achievements in Malawi have been more substantial largely because of the active involvement of NASFAM (National Association of Farmers in Malawi) which provides support for production of high quality soybean seed as well as grain through organized farmers’ associations and also provides linkage of these associations to soybean markets. With the improved supply of raw soybean to the processors, there has been an increased supply of Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) to an extent that you find such products available for sale to households in villages where the TVP is highly appreciated. This development is a result of a high level of awareness by the general public of the value of soybean as protein in the diet brought about through the activities of projects such as the CFC as well as others dealing with food legumes in general such as N2Africa.

It is evident that awareness creation of the value of legumes in the cropping system as well as the appreciation of the nutritive value of legumes in the diet are key strategies for promoting wider scale production as well as incorporation in the diet.

The world continues to experience huge deficits in food needs both in terms of quality and quantity to feed the ever-growing population. The food gap in terms of quantity is particularly pronounced in developing countries where agricultural production and productivity gaps remain significantly higher than the global averages. This scenario is particularly true for Africa for most agricultural commodities.