More than most other international agricultural research centers, the World Vegetable Center puts considerable emphasis on development and health issues.
Our work specifically addresses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; promote economic growth and jobs, improve agricultural systems and rural development, curb climate change, secure biodiversity, safeguard the environment, and promote gender equity and access to education.
- In the Philippines our pilot project promoting the use of indigenous vegetables in school lunches has been so successful it is being scaled up to all schools nationwide.
- Studies in rural Tanzania have shown that indigenous vegetables provided half the vitamin A and almost a third of the iron for the poorest members of rural communities and their additional health promoting properties can be important to those with HIV/AIDS. Around cities they comprise the majority of vegetables grown. The Center’s research on 150 tropical and subtropical species found that many indigenous vegetables are highly nutritious and promote health due to high levels of antioxidant activity and antimicrobial activity.
- The Center’s Healthy Gardening Kits contain seed of improved varieties of exotic and traditional vegetables that provide balanced family nutrition year-round. More than 35,000 kits have been distributed in Africa and Asia since 2000, and in training programs that include improved recipes.
Strengthening the livelihoods of small-scale farmers as climates become more uncertain and extreme involves developing resilient vegetable production systems:
- The Center’s heat tolerant tomato lines have been a mainstay of the tropical tomato industry since the 1980s, and current research is making the crop drought tolerant as well, along with improved pest and disease resistance.
- Tomatoes are susceptible to flooding, and breeding cannot address this, so the Center has perfected and promoted grafting of tomatoes onto eggplant rootstocks that will tolerate flooding. Millions of grafted seedlings are now being produced in Vietnam, Bangladesh and other countries, and combined with our raised bed and covered cultivation techniques tomatoes can now be produced in the tropical hot wet season.
Improved vegetable production can have a surprising impact on family and community development. Because they are valuable commodities regularly sold for cash, even small areas of vegetables can have a large impact on family incomes.
- Exotic vegetables such as tomato provide a major source of income for smallholder farmers across Africa. A 2008 survey of more than 300 farmers in Mali indicated that vegetables provided the main source of cash income for almost three-quarters of households.
- A study by the Tanzanian government of the impact of just two new World Vegetable Center high yielding and disease resistant varieties showed that they had increased national tomato production by 40%, with net income gains for an average producer of 21%. In some districts more than 90% of farmers had been able to build new homes; in others they had bought vehicles or opened shops, while many had been able to pay school fees and medical bills.
The Center has a long history of developing IPM programs to reduce pesticide abuse. Eggplant is one of the most popular vegetables in South Asia, where half of the world’s entire crop is grown. It is practically the only vegetable available to the poor during the wet season, but farmers regularly used up to 80 pesticide applications each season to control the crop’s worst pest, eggplant fruit and shoot borer. The Center developed and extended integrated pest management for the crop that reduced pesticide use by 65 – 75%, cut smallholder farmers’ production costs by 30%, and increased their incomes by 60%. Hundreds of thousands of farmers across the region adopted the technologies leading to reduced environmental damage and improving community health.
The Center’s postharvest work on vegetables has particular importance for women. AVRDC studies have shown that in Southeast Asia, two-thirds of vegetable collectors and wholesalers and more than 90% of retailers are women. In Africa, 87% of vegetable traders are women, and those with the lowest incomes who are the weakest actors in the chain are older women retailers. Controlling for factors such as age, education and household size, men earn 28% more than women in vegetable trading.
Improvements to vegetable production and marketing may disadvantage women without careful policy management. As vegetable production becomes more profitable women may face more competition from men, and small women retailers are most disadvantaged as vegetable supply chains become more formalized and increasingly dominated by supermarkets. Policies to promote better access to price and standards information, access to credit and legal counseling, and improved market infrastructure can protect and support women retailers and farmers.
The Center’s long-term training courses have built up a network of alumni in most countries in Africa and Asia who have gone on to make significant contributions to the development of the vegetable industry in their home countries. These courses have provided one of the very few affordable professional development opportunities for in-service training of staff from the public and private sectors in developing countries. Research projects conducted by course participants have improved local vegetable production and enhanced the Center’s research. A review of the impact of two decades of such training in Southeast Asia showed it reduced poverty, increased farmer incomes and health, and contributed to a better environment by extending more sustainable production practices.
The Center’s plant breeders have developed more than 90 superior open-pollinated lines of vegetables for sub-Saharan Africa and strengthened local seed companies to produce seed of these crops for smallholder farmers. There has been virtually no public breeding of improved vegetables for sub-Saharan Africa for decades, so smallholder farmers cannot improve their yields and small seed companies have little improved product to sell. AVRDC drew on its has long experience in working with small seed companies in Asia; such companies have a market niche in producing quality seed of superior open pollinated vegetable varieties for smallholder farmers, which is not a market of interest to multinationals.
As international trade in fresh vegetables increases, postharvest processing and production quality control are becoming important research and development areas for the Center.