The FAO supremo said the Green Revolution of the 1960s had increased per capita availability of food by over 40%, but noted that this had come at the cost of a loss of food diversity due to a focus on a few crops and intensive use of chemical inputs that have caused significant
But now, Graziano da Silva suggests that there is a trend towards growing and marketing traditional foods, in addition to improving local infrastructure and markets and helping small-scale producers – all of which is good for the environment and the economy of rural areas, where hunger was worst, he said.
"Under-utilized crops ... can have a positive impact on food security," said the FAO director-general chief.
"Recovering these crops is a way towards food security. It also means rediscovering lost flavours and identifying new ones," he told an audience of academics and students while visiting the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy.
Cassava and quinoa
Graziano da Silva said the cases of cassava in African and South American regions and quinoa in the Andes, are good examples of food crops that are ‘coming into their own’ to the benefit of poor farmers and their families.
He encouraged those listening oo help spread word about the International Year of Quinoa, recently launched by the UN organisation and being celebrated this year.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Bolivia and Peru account for more than half of the annual 70,000 tons of quinoa produced.
The UN said that while cultivation of the crop is expanding to Kenya, India, North America and Europe, most of the crop is still farmed through traditional means in the Andean Plateau.
Integrated nutrition strategies
Speaking previously at a presentation at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, Graziano da Silva has called for integrated nutrition strategies to help countries deal with rapidly changing diets.
Graziano da Silva said that many countries were failing to cope with the impact of urbanisation and increased wealth on diets, and consumers needed to be provided with better information on food.
“We need integrated nutrition strategies, formed with the inputs of society as a whole – the private sector, consumers, doctors, and consumer organizations and others," he said.
In particular, he said some region-specific crops were being forgotten in modern diets, again citing the example of quinoa in the Andean region, which has seen a resurgence in developed markets as a highly nutritious ‘superfood’.
“Every region has a variety of non-commodity crops that were used in the past as food," said the FAO supremo.