Traditional Food Crops Provide Community Resilience in Face of Climate Change

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By Ronit Ridberg

Thanks to Dr. Soul Shava, Training Manager at the Aurecon Training Academy, in Pretoria, South Africa for sharing a recent study, by researchers from Rhodes and Cornell Universities and the Sebakwe Black Rhino Conservation Trust, on indigenous crops with the Nourishing the Planet project. We encourage everyone to continue to send in suggestions for examples of, and writing about, environmentally sustainable agriculture innovations to dnierenberg@worldwatch.org. Your input is helping to shape our research!

By incorporating indigenous vegetables and increasing crop diversity, farmers in Zimbabwe improved their diets and increased agricultural resilience. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

A recent study by researchers from Cornell and Rhodes universities and the Sebakwe Black Rhino Conservation Trust found that traditional food crops, such as mubovora (pumpkin) and ipwa (sweet reed), are an important source of community resilience in Zimbabwe—including resilience to climate change and economic turbulence.

Unlike traditional crops, the majority of commercial crops that have been introduced to the region “are not adapted to local conditions and require high inputs of agrochemical inputs such as fertilizers, mechanization, and water supply,” according to the study. These crops tend to be more vulnerable to climatic changes, such as the drought and subsequent flooding that occurred in Zimbabwe’s Sebakwe area in 2007–08.

To avoid some of these challenges, many communities and farmers turned—and returned—to growing traditional and indigenous crops. By incorporating indigenous vegetables and increasing crop diversity, farmers improved their diets and increased agricultural resilience to pest, diseases, and changes in weather. Planting different varieties of maize and millet also enabled farmers to match specific crops to their own microclimates.

Additional benefits of growing more diverse crops include seed saving and the processing of traditional foods. With dried and other preserved traditional foods, communities have a more secure and reliable food source during the off-seasons. And seed saving and sharing enable communities to remain independent from commercial agricultural companies, helping to ensure future food security.

For more on the benefits of growing indigenous vegetables as crops, see Innovation of the Week: Homegrown Solutions to Alleviating Hunger and Poverty, Keeping Weeds for Nutrition and Taste, and Creating a Well-Rounded Food Revolution.

Ronit Ridberg is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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