How to fill harvest and nutrient 'gaps' through locally available species: an insight to the development of Food Tree and Crop Portfolios

Among the main reasons for food insecurity in rural areas is the lack of seasonal availability of foods, particularly for smallholders relying mostly on foods from own production (Ng’endo et al., 2016; McMullin et al., 2019a). To overcome seasonal hunger gaps and diversify predominant staple-based diets in rural areas, World Agroforestry has developed a methodology to identify location specific seasonal food calendars with food tree species available in local food systems (McMullin et al., 2019b). These ‘Food Tree and Crop Portfolios’, based on the original Fruit Tree Portfolio concept (Jamnadass et al., 2015; Kehlenbeck and McMullin, 2015; McMullin et al., 2019b) (Figure 6.1), have been developed with the intended use of selecting socio-ecologically suitable and nutritionally important food tree species and complementary vegetable, pulse and staple crops for

Based on the original methodology developed by World Agroforestry, a Fruit Tree Portfolio — providing for year-round harvest of at least one fruit rich in vitamins A or C, illustrated by a calenda

FIGURE 6.1 Based on the original methodology developed by World Agroforestry, a Fruit Tree Portfolio — providing for year-round harvest of at least one fruit rich in vitamins A or C, illustrated by a calendar wheel.

Source: World Agroforestry/Fruiting Africa Project.

production. These portfolios are combinations of indigenous/underutilized, and exotic species that can potentially provide year-round nutritious foods to address food harvest gaps and nutrient gaps in local diets (Dawson et al., 2018; McMullin et al., 201%). Indigenous and underutilized food species are an important feature of the portfolios because they are more adapted to landscapes - to local soils and climatic stress (McKay et al., 2005) and their mainstreaming into wider use is relevant to ensure the total value of these foods are harnessed for meeting current and future dietary needs (Bioversity International, 2017).

The portfolio approach uses location-specific data on food tree and crop species phenology, months of household’s food security, individual level food consumption data and nutrient composition data to target harvest and specific micronutrient gaps in local food systems.

The harvest months ofprioritized food tree and crop species (Figure 6.2, part a) are mapped against periods of food insecurity (Figure 6.2, part b). In addition to filling harvest ‘gaps’, the portfolio addresses certain nutrient ‘gaps’ by matching the identified foods with nutrient content data (Figure 6.2, part c).

In Kenya, eight site-specific food tree and crop portfolios have been developed for different agroecological zones4 (Figure 6.3). To adequately address food production and nutrient gaps, a greater diversity of foods could be cultivated on farms and in public spaces such as schools and religious grounds. Flowever, for sustainable production, only the most ecologically suitable and preferred species should be recommended to farmers. An important component of the portfolio approach is that communities participated in the identification and prioritization of foods which can be used to meet food harvest and nutrient gaps in their local food systems. The discussion with community members around the local foods used and their seasonal availability filled information gaps on indigenous and underutilized food species. This was particularly important for tree foods, for which less is known and particularly the months of availability based on ecological suitability and tree phenology, as harvest times can show great inter-annual variability and large spatial differences (WMO, 2009).

The portfolio approach also makes use of several tools including the vegeta- tionmap4africa (http://vegetationmap4africa.org/) to support food tree species selection. These maps are based on natural vegetation and potential distribution maps of useful tree species for many functional uses. Understanding the distribution of natural vegetation provides a good approximation of where wider planting of indigenous and underutilized tree species will contribute to ecosystem services, and food and nutrition security.

The recommended portfolios must also be made available to communities where they are promoted, this requires that farmers have access to quality planting material. Several entry points such as Agroforestry Innovation Hubs and schools (see section 4) are used to facilitate the distribution of quality planting material with training on agroforestry and tree management. Seeds of Nutrition packs are one example from the Food Tree Project of seed and seedling distribution. These packs are a selection of the portfolio seeds and seedlings distributed

An example of a Food Tree and Crop Portfolio for Ngobit, Laikipia County, Kenya

FIGURE 6.2 An example of a Food Tree and Crop Portfolio for Ngobit, Laikipia County, Kenya. This portfolio provides a recommendation for a diversity of socio-ecological suitable indigenous/underutilized and exotic food trees and crops (vegetables, pulses, and staples) that can be cultivated for addressing year-round food harvest and providing key micronutrients (iron, folate, vitamins A and C) in local diets.

Source: World Agroforestry/Food Trees Project.

Project sites and counties where food tree and crop portfolios have been developed, and school garden locations used as demonstration sites in Kenya

FIGURE 6.3 Project sites and counties where food tree and crop portfolios have been developed, and school garden locations used as demonstration sites in Kenya (Shalom Primary School, Ngobit, Laikipia County; Yikiatine Primary School and Makutano DEB Primary School, Machakos County. World Agroforestry/Food Trees Project.).

with accompanying agriculture-nutrition information. The portfolios not only support direct food production - consumption pathways, but also support diversified income generating pathways through engagement in nursery enterprises and the supply of tree seed and seedlings, and the potential to sell surplus produce. Increased income is important as the role of markets for meeting dietary needs should not be ignored, even in rural areas - as many households depend on a combination of own production and purchasing of foods, particularly foods that may not be seasonally available on-farm (Sibhatu and Qaim, 2017).

Training, education and practical 'hands-on' agricultural activities in school gardens as an important entry point for leveraging production diversity to consumption diversity

Diversity of agricultural production can be a relevant predictor of dietary diversity (and therefore diet quality) (Kumar et al., 2015). Nevertheless, increasing dietary diversity as a strategy for addressing micronutrient deficiencies requires the need for behaviour change and for outreach and education about how foods, and a diversity of foods meet multiple nutrient and dietary needs for optimum health. Integrating agriculture and nutrition messaging through training, education and practical ‘hands-on’ gardening activities in schools can deliver necessary outreach and learning on the cultivation and use of nutritious foods at the household level (FAO, 2010). Moreover, including school garden activities is going beyond just theoretical nutrition education. The social interaction of harvesting, sharing, preparing and eating, positively influences young people’s food awareness and eating habits, with greater interest in eating fruits and vegetables shown by pupils who participated in school garden activities (Morris and Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002; Libman, 2007; McAleese and Rankin, 2007; Robinson-O’Brien et al., 2009). Socio-cultural practices and preferences and the desirability and convenience of certain foods (Hawkes et al., 2017) impact food choices (Oniang’o et al., 2003; Ruel et al., 2005; Keats and Wiggins, 2014; Keding et al., 2017). There has been a declining interest in ‘traditional’ foods associated with an intergenerational loss of knowledge about these foods and their importance in local diets (Turner and Turner, 2007; Reyes-Garcia et al., 2013), and as a result, they are often stigmatized as being for those less well off, and for those ‘left behind’ in rural landscapes (Abukutsa, 2010). Through the promotion of healthy diet and eating practices and the social interaction during adolescence, there is the potential to mitigate nutritional deficits generated during the first decade of life, break intergenerational cycles of malnutrition, and limit the epidemic of obesity and non-communicable diseases in adulthood.

 
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