COP28: FAO welcomes $50 million in additional funding for innovative African crops project

Rome – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has welcomed a pledge from the United States of America of $50 million in new funding for the innnovative Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) programme, which aims to identify and develop neglected but climate-resilient crops for use in agriculture around Africa.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the new funding, which adds to the $100 million committed earlier this year, at the Leaders’ Event: Transforming Food Systems in the face of Climate Change event at the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai on Friday.

“We are working with partners to rethink what, where and how we produce food within the context of a changing climate. Our goal is for farmers and for ranchers to be able to sustainably achieve better yields of more nutritious crops at lower cost, using less land and producing fewer emissions. That’s the vision,” Blinken said. “And it is also the mission of the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils, or VACS,” which the U.S. State Department launched in partnership with FAO and the African Union a few months ago.”

“These fresh new resources will greatly help to accelerate a very promising programme that could have rapid and lasting impact on the ground,” said FAO Chief Economist Maximo Torero.

VACS will focus on “below-ground” investments such as soil mapping and techniques to improve soil health and resilience, and “above-ground investments, in particularly identifying underinvested but nutrient-rich and climate-resilient crops breeding better varieties of them. “This is not just food to survive, but to thrive,” Blinken said.

Several countries and leading corporations have agreed to participate in the programme, which FAO hailed as “science in action.”

Indigenous and traditional crops

Currently around one in five people in Africa face chronic hunger, and the climate crisis is likely to exacerbate the situation. Revitalizing indigenous and traditional food crops, many with high nutritional value but orphaned with the increasing popularity of staples such as maize, rice and wheat, presents a critical opportunity, according to FAO.

Many such crops may be better suited to tolerate hot and dry conditions, greater pest and disease pressure and extreme weather events, and have central roles in driving a true transformation of agrifood systems in Africa.

The first phase of VACS consisted of identifying candidate crops across five African subregions, an ongoing process to which FAO has contributed by holding a technical workshop at which a large number of individual experts convened to produce a list of 174 initial candidates. The second, already underway, entails modelling exercises to assess how they will fare under climate change through 2050. The next phase will be to accelerate research, development and deployment for these crops, ultimately delivering high-yielding, locally-adapted varieties to farmers and consumers across

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