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"
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