New €7 million sustainable crop production project focuses on underutilised crops

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Limerick are among a European consortium that has secured over €7 million to promote underutilised crops in Europe as part of a new project.

Headed by researchers from the Catholic University of Portugal, the H2020 framework project, RADIANT, envisages a future where a “widespread, informed adoption of agrobiodiversity [agricultural biodiversity] promotes the wider use of underutilised crops”.

The project will aim to showcase a network of agrobiodiversity farms across Europe, where best practices in land management and smart marketing are embedded to promote improved agronomy and breeding that capitalises on native biodiversity. 

Speaking about this, Mike Williams, assistant professor in botany in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, said:

“Of the 50,000 plant species that are edible, only 150 to 200 are consumed, with only three of these providing 60% of the calories in the human diet.

Add to this the significant loss in genetic diversity of crop plants that has occurred over the last hundred years – 75% – and it is clear that present day crop production systems rely on both a small number of plant species and a limited collection of varieties/cultivars.

“Opposite to this trend, increasing agricultural biodiversity is key to the provision of food and our nutritional and economic security, particularly to small farms and rural communities in Europe.

“This project, by focusing on underutilised crops, will facilitate development and showcasing of farms, management systems and dynamic value chains that promote agrobiodiversity.”

Trinity, in partnership with the University of Limerick, will be involved in developing a toolkit to assess these production systems in terms of nutritional, environmental and ecological impact.

Trinity’s role will focus on quantifying multifunctional traits for underutilised crops within a life cycle assessment framework, to benchmark these crops and their dynamic value chains against industrialised crops.