The Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) is a new project that aims to boost agricultural productivity and nutrition by developing diverse, climate-resilient crop varieties and building healthy soils. Special Envoy for Global Food Security Dr. Cary Fowler recently launched the initiative in Africa in partnership with the African Union and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
VACS focuses on what Fowler calls “opportunity crops,” or crops that offer many benefits yet have “suffered from years and years of massive underinvestment.” These crops, which include cowpea, pigeon pea, mung bean, and lablab, provide protein and micronutrients while enriching the soil. “They have so much potential,” Fowler tells Food Tank.
Fowler explains that the VACS team identified approximately 60 traditional, indigenous, and underutilized crops that offered some of the greatest nutritional benefits. From there, they narrowed the list down further, working with experts to conduct modeling and determine the crops that can best withstand the changing climate.
According to Fowler, the process has been driven by African stakeholders. “The leadership for this…has to come with local people. It has to come with African institutions and with African scientists and African farmers.” Some of their partners include the African Orphan Crops Consortium and the African Plant Breeders Association.
Fowler adds that the team is mindful that VACS is building on work that has been in progress by local leaders for many years. “This is not something that we created out of thin air.”
At its core, Fowler believes that VACS is really about going “back to the basics…We’ve got to get the fundamentals right,” he tells Food Tank. “And the fundamentals are always going to be soils and crops.”
With this work, Fowler emphasizes that they are not trying to create a project with a start and end date. Rather, they are hoping to “kick start a movement, a different way of thinking about this issue.”
Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Cary Fowler on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about the relationships that VACS is developing with African farmers, the private sector and civil society partners that VACS is working with, and why it’s important for development agencies and non-governmental organizations to integrate more opportunity crops into their programs.
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Photo courtesy of David Stanley, Wikimedia Commons