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close this bookSPORE Bulletin of the CTA No. 14 (CTA Spore, 1988, 16 p.)
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View the documentThe promising future of Sesbania rostrata Reducing the need for commercial fertilizer
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New crops for food and industry

If it is agreed that the world has the potential resources to support its future population, it must also be acknowledged that - if governments should concentrate on the more equitable distribution of those resources - scientists and agriculturalists must direct their efforts towards new means of utilizing them.

This will entail producing new forms of old crops by breeding and selection, domesticating and managing wild species, and using biotechnology to create new plants.

It was to discuss future needs and developments in this field, and to put members of different disciplines in touch, that 130 participants from 33 developed and developing countries from all five continents gathered at the University of Southampton, U K from September 22-25 1987. The occasion was a Symposium on New Crops for Food and Industry, sponsored among others by CTA.

This symposium was a response to the global interest in increasing and sustaining agricultural productivity without contributing more to the surplus of the well-established staple crops of North America and Europe. But perhaps the most positive result of the gathering was the establishment at Southampton of a centre to develop and exploit under-utilized crops for food, energy and industrial raw materials in the tropics, sub-tropics, arid and semiarid and temperate regions.

CTA supported the attendance of two experts from ACP countries and delegates heard 41 papers on topics ranging from less-known oil-bearing plants to Indonesian seaweeds; development for industry, from biomass production in the desert using algae to the potential of herbal drugs; and to argue vigorously on behalf of their own individual crop specialities.

Despite such individual enthusiasm it was established that the needs of developing countries must come first, and to meet these, various criteria for crop priority emerged from both papers and discussions. They included the market potential and utility of the crops, the socioeconomic and the agricultural-environmental benefits, the degree to which systems can be developed to sustain production, the degree to which a new crop will help stabilize a shifting cultivation system or enable a fragile drought-prone environment to be stably productive; whether it is both independent of major agrochemical inputs and pest and disease-resistant, and the management of the genotype and environment interaction during development.

Other important priorities followed: that funding should not be wasted on new crops whose viability was open to serious doubt and that the conservation of genetic resources was vital. There was universal acknowledgement of women's role in agriculture, and of the social and agricultural importance of smallholdings in tropical countries.

It was further agreed that international agencies such as FAO, IBPGR, CGIAR, etc, should allocate funding to new crops, that these bodies should commit funds on a long-term basis rather than on shorter "seed" programmes.

The most concrete result of the symposium arose from a forum on the final day, chaired by Professor P Day from the Center for Agricultural Molecular Biology, Cook College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick. The symposium adopted the University of Southampton's proposal for a Centre for Under-Utilized Crops (International Co-ordinating Centre).

This establishment, which came into being on January 1 1988, will assist in and co-ordinate research and development in the field and laboratory, offer training courses on topics related to new crop development, start a newsletter and set up a database that will interact with others at Kew near London and elsewhere