Media Release | Jun. 20, 2011

UBC-Peruvian research gains $3.4M to improve food security

Greater food security in the impoverished Andean regions of Peru will be the focus of a University of British Columbia-Peruvian study thanks to a $3.4 million investment from Canadian development agencies.

The 42-month initiative will work with smallholder farmers and indigenous people in two regions of the Peruvian Andes known for their biodiversity and active farmers’ associations. The aim is to increase food security by improving sustainable, organic agriculture, focusing on staple crops such as potatoes and small Andean tuber crops.

The research team comprises UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems Profs. Andrew Riseman, Eduardo Jovel and Judy McLean, along with Manuel Ruiz, Peruvian Society for Environmental Law and Roberto Ugás, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, and other stakeholders.

The research is funded by the Canadian International Food Security Research Fund (CIFSRF), a collaborative program between Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

“Our goal is to enhance local farmers’ knowledge, innovations and practices regarding native crop management, improvement and selection to increase yields,” says Assoc. Prof. Riseman, who studies plant genetics and the efficient use of nutrients and intercrop interaction for sustainable production.

To foster intensive and integrated farming, the researchers will explore participatory plant breeding, assessing the genetic diversity and traits associated with sustainability of current and potential crops, particularly those that are indigenous.

“The contributions of indigenous people to agriculture remain crucial to the future of food security in the region,” says Assoc. Prof. Jovel, head of the UBC Aboriginal Health and Natural Products Chemistry Lab.
Jovel, an ethnobotanist and Indigenous Pipil from El Salvador, adds, “The Andean region is a repository of traditional knowledge and an asset for the development of sustainable strategies for farmers.”

The research team will help farmers build upon organic certification systems run by networks of local stakeholders, which will promote the integration of traditional knowledge, innovation and intellectual property issues, including patents and plant breeders’ rights.

The interdisciplinary study will examine organizational links, gender, policy, advocacy, access to markets for organic produce, and issues such as guaranteed minimum earnings in the region. On average, Andean famers earn about CDN$300 a year.

Sophisticated Andean agricultural practices have, over millennia, domesticated species of edible plants and fruits, contributing crops that make up one third of the foods we eat today, among them potato, corn, beans, peppers and tomato. Over the past decades, there has been a major decline in agriculture due to Andean migration to coastal cities. As well, the region’s delicate ecosystems have been impacted by population growth, deforestation, soil erosion, resource mismanagement and natural disasters.

The initiative aims to improve nutrition among the Andean population through production of under-utilized crops that include the grain amaranth and physalis, a fruit related to the tomatillo. Many under-utilized Andean crops are little known outside the regions and are quickly disappearing because of social unrest and environmental damage.

Through investments in applied and interdisciplinary research, the CIFSRF contributes to the development of more productive and sustainable agricultural techniques for women smallholder farmers, with the ultimate goal of making food sources more secure and the food produced more nutritious for poor people in developing countries. For more details, please visit: http://publicwebsite.idrc.ca/EN/Media/Pages/CIFSRF-Press-Release.aspx

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