Welcome to BRINGING AGROBIODIVERSITY TO YOUR DINNER TABLE, a six-part podcast series that looks at the challenges and opportunities for creating a more diverse food system. Produced in partnership with FOODTANK and FACT, the series features guests from across the globe who are united with a shared purpose: to promote more locally-based, resilient food systems by changing what we grow and how we eat.
Danielle Nierenberg is a world-renowned researcher, speaker, and advocate, on all issues relating to our food system and agriculture.
She is president of Food Tank, a nonprofit organization focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters. Food Tank is a global convener, research organization, and unbiased creator of original research impacting the food system.
Danielle has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world, and innovations in sustainable agriculture.
Prior to starting Food Tank, Danielle spent two years traveling to more than 35 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, meeting with farmers and farmers’s groups, scientists and researchers, policymakers and government leaders, students and academics, along with journalists, documenting what’s working to help alleviate hunger and poverty, while protecting the environment.
She has an M.S. in Agriculture, Food, and Environment from the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and spent two years volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.
Neglected. Underutilized. Forgotten. Minor. Orphan. When agronomists use these terms, what are they talking about? It turns out that in many cases they’re referring to the same thing: crops that have been discarded as global agriculture—and our diets—become increasingly focused on fewer and fewer ingredients.
At the start of his illustrious career as an agronomist, Stefano worked on a weed commonly foraged from roadsides in Puglia, a rural region in Southern Italy. Within five years, that weed—known as arugula or “rocket”—became ubiquitous in supermarkets and restaurants across the world, and Stefano became known as the Rocket Man. Twenty years later, Stefano reflects on that amazing story and shares the promise of other underutilized crops from across the world that are returning to our tables.
Since the 1900s, farmers worldwide have abandoned many traditional crops in favor of more genetically uniform, higher-yielding varieties. Today, over half the world’s plant-based nutrition comes from just 3 crops: corn, wheat, and rice. Our ecosystem biodiversity is threatened and people are malnourished. Can this trend toward the intensive production of select crops be reversed?
With the Rediscovered Project The Lexicon’s Douglas Gayeton and team are documenting a shift happening across the globe. Crops forgotten over the past half-century are being rediscovered. Increasing agrobiodiversity, by increasing the presence of these forgotten crops and more diverse varieties of popular crops (such as rice) in local and global supply chains, has the potential to combat hunger, respond to climate change, provide women with livelihoods, and support healthier and more secure food systems.
Ann Thrupp worked with the FACT Roundtable to identify Ten Principles of Agrobiodiversity. The application of these 10 principles provides benefits to producers, communities, consumers, and other stakeholders in the food supply chain, and is aligned with broader efforts to develop sustainable, equitable and regenerative food systems, as well as responsible businesses.
Douglas and Ann discuss the work of the FACT Roundtable and the power of agrobiodiversity.
We face a swath of interconnected challenges in our food system; a global pandemic, climate change, conflict and disease, food access and nutrition, and more. Agrobiodiversity can be a critical lever of change, but manage this lever, we need to measure it, and to promote this lever, we need to show its value.
To measure agrobiodiversity, Roseline Remans and her team at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT developed The Agrobiodiversity Index. The Index looks at the multifunctionality of agrobiodiversity and its value to actors throughout the food system. But after we measure it, how do we integrate agrobiodiversity into the global food system?
Lucas Anderson explains the importance of sharing the story of agrobiodiversity by increasing transparency in global supply chains to view and communicate agrobiodiversity’s benefits. Lucas describes how the development of food claims was driven by producers and consumers demanding information about their food choices; demanding transparency. Communicating the story of our foods between the point of production and the point of consumption has the potential to drive demand for agrobiodiversity in our food systems.
Consumers today want to know the whole story of a crop, from how sustainably it was grown to the nutritional benefits it provides. To meet these exacting requirements, farmers are under pressure to seek out new tools. While technology makes agricultural practices increasingly complex, the main challenge farmers face has never changed: how do they sell their products into a global yet highly fragmented, knowledgeable yet fickle, price-sensitive marketplace?
Blockchain and other tools that can increase both the traceability and transparency of ingredients in a supply chain can help farmers find new markets and even transition toward more sustainable farming practices, give food companies greater visibility into how their ingredients are grown, and support consumers who want to connect their values to their purchases. Mark Kaplan demystifies the way supply chains work by sharing his experiences working on everything from vanilla to fish.
Small millets encompass six varieties, including finger millet, proso millet, foxtail millet, little millet, barnyard millet and Kodo. Small millets fill many needs and fit in with the growing superfood movement. These nutritional powerhouses are packed with iron, zinc and calcium (finger millet), and help address anemia and fight diabetes. Small millets are climate smart crops that are both resilient to high temperatures and perform with minimal water, making cultivation possible on the most marginal agricultural lands.
Joanna Kane-Potaka, with the Smart Food Initiative, works to bring small millets into the mainstream as a staple food in India – benefiting public health, the environment, and rural livelihoods.
Dr. Oliver King and his team at The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) use appropriate science and technology to promote millet production to increase food security and address other problems faced by rural populations in India.
Their case study of small millets with the FACT team demonstrates the multifaceted benefits of increasing agrobiodiversity in local and international supply chains.
Agrobiodiversity means not only eating a variety of different foods but also a variety of the same food as well. Agribusiness and large scale monoculture production has caused the dwindling of the rice varieties known in the common palate throughout the world.
While over 40,000 rice varieties exist, consumers are largely aware of only one or two varieties.
Lotus Foods, cofounded by Caryl Levine, is keeping rice biodiversity alive through partnerships with smallholder farmers around the world who grow pigmented, heirloom rices that hold high nutritional value. The company promotes bottom-up production led by the indigenous knowledge of smallholder producers, and provides education to consumers on diverse rice varieties to increase demand and create new markets.
Caryl sees that consumers ultimately have tremendous power, power of the purse, to create a demand for agrobiodiversity in our supply chains. Her role for the last 25 years has been the education of consumers to value and understand agrobiodiversity.