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Roger RB Leakey

Roger RB Leakey

International Tree Foundation, UK

Title: From ethnobotany to mainstream agriculture: New crops for subsistence farmers in the tropics

Biography

Roger R B Leakey DSc, FRGS has been Director of Research of a CGIAR Centre based in Kenya and responsible for research teams working in four ecological zones of Africa developing agricultural systems for subsistence farmers, and Director of Novel Crops Unit and Professor of Agroecology and Sustainable Development at James
Cook University, Queensland, Australia. He has produced over 350 research publications, including two recent books on Multifunctional Agriculture. His personal research on the interface of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, ecology, food science and social sciences has focused on the domestication techniques and strategies for ethnobotanically important tree species appropriate for local implementation in rural communities. He is Vice Chair of the International Tree Foundation in UK and Co-convenor of
the Agroforestry Alliance for Africa.

Abstract

Statement of the Problem: Tropical agriculture is both failing local people and the environment with serious impacts on
food and nutritional security, poverty, the global well-being of society and the planet. Addressing this problem requires a new
mindset that recognizes the need to reverse the Cycle of Land Degradation and Social Deprivation that drives the complex
processes that result in very low and declining yields of staple food crops – creating a Yield Gap.
Methodology & Theoretical Orientation: To achieve this, African smallholder farmers have requested help to diversify their
farming systems with new crops that produce the traditionally and culturally-important food and medicinal products that
their ancestors used to gather from forests and woodlands. Cultivating these nutritious and ecologically important species
producing locally marketable products creates healthier agroecosystems and income generation opportunities; as well as new
business possibilities. Over the last 25 years, techniques and strategies to allow a decentralized and participatory approach
to the rapid domestication of these ethnobotanically important species have been applied and implemented in over 500
communities in Cameroon.
Findings: The results have been very positive and are being increasingly adopted and up-scaled; involving some 50 species. 1.
Communities can select individual trees with desirable traits from among the 3- to 10-fold intraspecific variation available at the
village-level. 2. These species are high amenable to simple, low-technology horticultural techniques for cultivar development
that can be implemented at the village level. 3. Participating communities have reported numerous social and economic
benefits from the domestication and cultivation of these species: and, in parallel, increased staple crop yields resulting from
improved soil fertility and health.
Conclusion & Significance: There are great opportunities to develop new tropical crops producing culturally important foods
and traditional medicines to transform subsistence agriculture and the lives of local people and benefit the global environment.