The world’s largest public sector collection of vegetable germplasm
With more than 59,000 accessions of 435 species from 156 countries, the AVRDC genebank includes globally important vegetables such as tomato, onion, peppers and cabbage as well as more than 10,000 accessions of indigenous vegetables. Often highly nutritious, these species are typically hardy and require less fertilizer or other costly inputs to thrive. Each year the Center distributes about 10,000 seed samples to researchers across the globe. Over the past four decades this has led to the release of hundreds of new vegetable varieties with particular impact in developing countries.
A balance of research and development
AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is the only international agricultural research center with “development” in its mandate. Center scientists have applied research in collaboration with farmers to breed well-adapted cultivars and develop technologies to increase yields and incomes in developing countries. Millions of farmers today grow vegetable crops using seed or technologies developed by the Center.
For four decades the Center has conducted breeding and agronomic research to adapt globally important temperate vegetable crops to the high temperatures and weather extremes of the tropics – conditions likely to be more prevalent with climate change. It also develops and promotes indigenous vegetables that are already well-adapted to the extremes of tropical climates. The Center led the development of tropically adapted tomatoes and brassicas, which made production of these crops in the tropical lowlands possible for the first time. Its research on vegetable production systems to cope with climate change includes work on flooding and drought tolerance, promoting grafting of tomatoes, peppers and other high-value crops onto flood-tolerant rootstocks of eggplant and other vegetables, and developing raised bed and covered cultivation techniques to grow tomatoes in the hot-wet season. Genes from wild relatives of tomato that thrive in arid climates are being bred into commercial tomato varieties to improve their drought tolerance.
Research and development that benefits women
Improving smallholder vegetable production and marketing skills can directly benefit women in many developing countries. Women often are responsible for producing and selling vegetables. Women grow vegetables in home gardens for family use and for market sale, providing an important source of nutrition and income; vegetables often provide the only cash resource for women to use for the welfare of their families. Women are often preferentially employed as laborers in vegetable production, and have a major role in value-addition after harvest.
Committed to health
The Center works closely with the health sector to overcome the effects of micronutrient malnutrition in developing countries, to promote the health benefits of vegetables as part of a balanced diet, and to develop the specific health-promoting properties of particular vegetables. Average vegetable consumption is well below the recommended minimum for good health in most countries of the world – both developed and developing. Although dietary supplements or biofortification can address micronutrient deficiencies in emergency situations, a more sustainable solution is to eat a balanced diet with sufficient fruit and vegetables. Vegetables are good sources of health-promoting phytochemicals that reduce the risk of obesity and chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The Center has released improved lines of tomato with enhanced nutritional values and is working on other vegetables with enhanced capabilities to reduce cancer risk and the effects of diabetes.
An emphasis on nutrition as well as productivity
Our dual focus on poverty and malnutrition differs from the missions of most other international agricultural research centers, which primarily aim to increase production and do not address the need for diverse and balanced diets. The drive to reach self-sufficiency in staple crops in many developing countries has neglected the greater nutritional, economic, and environmental benefits to be gained from more diverse crop production. There can be no food security without nutritional security, and vegetables have an essential role to play in balancing diets and alleviating malnutrition, in particular micronutrient malnutrition.
Reducing pesticide abuse
Excessive use of cheap pesticides is a growing global problem affecting the health of farmers and consumers alike and causing major environmental damage. In South Asia, pesticide residues in food, especially vegetables, are extraordinarily high; surveys show that 50-70% of vegetables are contaminated with insecticide residues. Finding alternatives to pesticides can have a large impact on community health. The Center’s integrated pest management strategies to reduce spraying for eggplant fruit and shoot borer – the worst pest of eggplant – reduced pesticide use by 65–75% in Bangladesh and India, cut production costs by 30%, increased farmers’ incomes by 60%, and improved community health. Ongoing research explores the use of natural enemies such as parasitoid wasps to control legume pod borer.
A close and productive relationship with the private sector
A strong, dynamic private sector can be a powerful partner for development-oriented agricultural research. The Center works closely with the private seed sector and with companies in postharvest processing and integrated pest management. The private seed industry in Asia has grown rapidly and about three-quarters of these companies now use the Center’s lines. The Asia-Pacific Seed Association is a core donor to the Center. In Southeast Asia, the Center has worked to develop small processing companies to add value to tomato and chili production. In India, after the Center proved the viability of pheromone-baited lures for eggplant pest control, local small and medium enterprises developed businesses to manufacture the traps. As more manufacturers became involved, the price of the lures dropped to an affordable level, and farmers, consumers, and the environment benefited.
A headquarters location with unique advantages
Based in Taiwan, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center is the only international agricultural research center with headquarters in a Chinese-speaking country. There are many advantages to being hosted by a country with a well-developed agricultural and horticultural research system, established universities, and high quality infrastructure. The support Taiwan’s institutions provide to the Center is invaluable. The Center’s location on the Tropic of Cancer and access to Taiwan’s four tropical and subtropical climatic zones provide many opportunities for researching vegetable production under diverse conditions. Proximity to the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—the world’s largest producer and exporter of vegetables—has allowed Center’s researchers to develop productive and pragmatic relationships with PRC scientists who have attended our training courses, actively shared germplasm, conducted collaborative research on vegetable breeding and disease management, and contributed to our conferences.
The global leader in promoting vegetables for development
The Center actively builds networks and conducts research and promotion activities to raise the profile of vegetables for improved health and global poverty alleviation.The Center’s research in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh showed policymakers that vegetables were one of the most economical means of overcoming widespread vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and an important means of diversifying cropping systems to improve their productivity. In Vietnam the Center studied the supply of vegetables in urban areas to advise on policies for food security and safety, and more recently has been working with ASEAN on Good Agricultural Practices for vegetable production. The Center facilitated worldwide consultations during the Global Horticultural Assessment to shape USAID policies to refocus on hunger and the role of vegetables. In 2005 the Center co-founded the Global Horticultural Initiative to make international policymakers aware of the value of fruit and vegetables to alleviate poverty and malnutrition around the world.