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The Potential Role of Neglected and Underutilised Crop Species as Future Crops under Water Scarce Conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa

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      Abstract

      Modern agricultural systems that promote cultivation of a very limited number of crop species have relegated indigenous crops to the status of neglected and underutilised crop species (NUCS). The complex interactions of water scarcity associated with climate change and variability in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and population pressure require innovative strategies to address food insecurity and undernourishment. Current research efforts have identified NUCS as having potential to reduce food and nutrition insecurity, particularly for resource poor households in SSA. This is because of their adaptability to low input agricultural systems and nutritional composition. However, what is required to promote NUCS is scientific research including agronomy, breeding, post-harvest handling and value addition, and linking farmers to markets. Among the essential knowledge base is reliable information about water utilisation by NUCS with potential for commercialisation. This commentary identifies and characterises NUCS with agronomic potential in SSA, especially in the semi-arid areas taking into consideration inter alia: (i) what can grow under water-scarce conditions, (ii) water requirements, and (iii) water productivity. Several representative leafy vegetables, tuber crops, cereal crops and grain legumes were identified as fitting the NUCS category. Agro-biodiversity remains essential for sustainable agriculture.

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      REDISCOVERY OF TRADITIONAL ECOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE AS ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT

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        Plant breeding and drought in C3 cereals: what should we breed for?

        Drought is the main abiotic constraint on cereal yield. Analysing physiological determinants of yield responses to water may help in breeding for higher yield and stability under drought conditions. The traits to select (either for stress escape, avoidance or tolerance) and the framework where breeding for drought stress is addressed will depend on the level and timing of stress in the targeted area. If the stress is severe, breeding under stress-free conditions may be unsuccessful and traits that confer survival may become a priority. However, selecting for yield itself under stress-alleviated conditions appears to produce superior cultivars, not only for optimum environments, but also for those characterized by frequent mild and moderate stress conditions. This implies that broad avoidance/tolerance to mild-moderate stresses is given by constitutive traits also expressed under stress-free conditions. In this paper, we focus on physiological traits that contribute to improved productivity under mild-moderate drought. Increased crop performance may be achieved through improvements in water use, water-use efficiency and harvest index. The first factor is relevant when soil water remains available at maturity or when deep-rooted genotypes access water in the soil profile that is not normally available; the two latter conditions become more important when all available water is exhausted by the end of the crop cycle. Independent of the mechanism operating, a canopy able to use more water than another would have more open stomata and therefore higher canopy temperature depression, and 13C discrimination (delta13C) in plant matter. The same traits would also seem to be relevant when breeding for hot, irrigated environments. Where additional water is not available to the crop, higher water-use efficiency (WUE) appears to be an alternative strategy to improve crop performance. In this context delta13C constitutes a simple but reliable measure of WUE. However, in contrast to lines performing better because of increased access to water, lines producing greater biomass due to superior WUE will have lower delta13C values. WUE may be modified not only through a decrease in stomatal conductance, but also through an increase in photosynthetic capacity. Harvest index is strongly reduced by terminal drought (i.e. drought during grain filling). Thus, phenological traits increasing the relative amount of water used during grain filling, or adjusting the crop cycle to the seasonal pattern of rainfall may be useful. Augmenting the contribution of carbohydrate reserves accumulated during vegetative growth to grain filling may also be worthwhile in harsh environmcnts. Alternatively, extending the duration of stem elongation without changing the timing of anthesis would increase the number of grains per spike and the harvest index without changing the amount of water utilized by the crop.
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          Food security and biodiversity: can we have both? An agroecological analysis

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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, P.O. Box 776, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
            [2 ]School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, P. Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa; E-Mails: mabhaudhi@ 123456ukzn.ac.za (T.M.); modiAT@ 123456ukzn.ac.za (A.T.M.); mafongoya@ 123456ukzn.ac.za (P.M.)
            Author notes
            [†]

            These authors contributed equally to this work.

            [* ]Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail: pchivenge@ 123456gmail.com ; Tel.: +263-383-311; Fax: +263-383-307.
            Contributors
            Role: Academic Editor
            Role: Academic Editor
            Journal
            Int J Environ Res Public Health
            Int J Environ Res Public Health
            ijerph
            International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
            MDPI
            1661-7827
            1660-4601
            26 May 2015
            June 2015
            : 12
            : 6
            : 5685-5711
            26016431
            4483666
            10.3390/ijerph120605685
            ijerph-12-05685
            (Academic Editor), (Academic Editor)
            © 2015 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

            This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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