Diversifying Agriculture for Better Lives

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15 April 2013 Add Comments
Proceedings of the “2nd International Symposium on Underutilised Plant Species: Crops for the Future – Beyond Food Security”

Proceedings of the “2nd International Symposium on Underutilised Plant Species: Crops for the Future – Beyond Food Security”

We are pleased to announce that the proceedings of the “2nd International Symposium on Underutilised Plant Species: Crops for the Future – Beyond Food Security” has been published by Acta Horticulturae publication of International Society for Horticultural Sciences (ISHS) on 31 March 2013.

The symposium was held on 27 June-01 July 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was organised by Crops for the Future Research Centre, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus under the auspices of ISHS. The event was co-convened and supported by Crops for the Future, Bioversity International, the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, Boustead Holdings Berhad, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Kirkhouse Trust, British Council and Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa.

The follow-up to this symposium is the coming “3rd International Conference on Neglected and Underutilized Species (NUS)” that will take place on 23-25 September 2013, in Accra, Ghana. Please visit the official conference website for more information. Interested participants are encouraged to sign up for the conference newsletter to receive updates on the development of this conference.


Archived postings of the symposium in the past:



19 February 2013 Add Comments
The Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund

The Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund

The Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund provides small-scale, in-country development organisations access to U.S. graduate student expertise, providing benefit to both the student and the in-country institutions.

Organisations in 18 selected developing countries are invited to identify a horticultural problem facing local farmers and the type of expertise they seek in a U.S. graduate student. Interested organisation are requested to submit a project proposal with their intended objectives, activities, gender program and a $2,000 budget

Graduate students from UC Davis, Cornell University, North Carolina State University and University of Hawaii at Manoa are invited to submit applications to participate in this programme. Selected students will travel to meet their partner organisation and, upon return, will support their organisation’s outreach programme via email.

Deadline to both organisations and graduate students applications closes on 04 March 2013. Please visit the official website of the Horticulture CRSP Trellis Fund 2013 for more information or direct your enquiries to email hidden; JavaScript is required.

14 August 2012 Add Comments
Durian on sale near Cirebon

Probing durian for fruit quality, near Cirebon, Java

It would seem it isn’t. After all, durian is a significant fruit in its native range, Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, for example, it ranks first  –in volume and value- amongst all domestically produced fruit. In recent years, China, where the crop is not traditionally known, has begun to develop a taste for durian imported from Thailand, which had a trade value of US$70 million in 2010. Tourism operators (in Malaysia) sell with increasing success travel packages that include tasting tours to durian plantations. Occasionally, durian makes for good headlines, such as the story of a Macau billionaire reported to fly in his personal durian supplies on a private jet.

So, on the surface of it, things seem to be going pretty well for durian. However, we think the crop could be doing even better, indeed much better…

To begin with, durian still has a reputational problem. Articles, such as this one, misleadingly titled “Surviving Durian“, and others comparing durian to smelly feet, sewer and other fetid odours perpetuate “Western prejudice”. Rather than apologising for durian’s aroma, and banning it from hotels, in Asia we should be celebrating the “king of fruits” as an emblematic product of the region. Durian aromas are as varied and complex as those of wine, cocoa or coffee, but developing an appreciation for this complexity is a learning process, and will require a specific vocabulary to describe and communicate specific qualities. Calls for developing “improved” durian varieties with bland flavours abound, but this is like asking for Roquefort cheese with its characteristic aroma removed. Bon appétit!

Secondly, the success of trading rather undifferentiated “commodity” durian from a few clonal varieties –unimaginatively referred to by their clonal selection IDs such as “D24”- leads to the replacement of “durian kampung”, the seed-propagated “village durians” that fetch only low prices owing to their varying and inconsistent quality. Each fruit needs to be opened and probed to judge its quality, and traders and consumers are clearly finding this cumbersome (see picture). Our field observations suggest that durian kampung trees are now being chopped down all over Southeast Asia on a massive scale, and replaced (or grafted) with clonal material. Paradoxically, durian’s success as a commodity erodes the resource base, upon which current sales are based: all “superior” clonal varieties are not the result of breeding efforts, but have been identified amongst elite kampung trees.

Thirdly, we believe that a great opportunity to differentiate durian into a high-value product, permitting greater rural incomes and providing incentives for conservation, is being wasted. Durian in the narrow sense refers to Durio zibethinus, which has much intra-specific diversity of flavour, texture and colour, but there are another eight Durio species with edible fruits that are hardly ever traded outside their native range. There is circumstantial evidence for significant interaction of genetics, location and crop management, which provides scope for the development of durian “terroirs” with unique qualities that may even be deserving of product protection through geographic indications.

In conclusion, we believe that durian is indeed a neglected and under-utilised species: overlooked by science, with much differentiation potential that remains unappreciated by markets and researchers, unprotected from genetic erosion, and suffering from a general lack of development vision.




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15 May 2012 Add Comments

The International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) announces the 4th International Symposium on Lychee, Longan and Other Sapindaceae Fruits, to be held from 2-6 December, 2012, in White River, South Africa.
The symposium is organised by the South African Litchi Growers’ Association and the Agricultural Research Council under the auspices of ISHS. Maybe this is an opportunity to disseminate your work on Sapindaceae fruits, but consider that your paper is likely to appear in conference proceedings behind a pay wall and will effectively be inaccessible to the folks unable to afford the hefty fees for ISHS article downloads. This is unfortunate as the scarcity of literature on these lesser known species is  further aggravated by what appears to us as obsolete publication policies.

09 September 2011 1 Comment
Source from Wikimedia Commons

Durio zibethinus (WikiCommons)


This BBC piece reminded us of the wonderful durian fruit (Durio zibethinus), which despite its potential for diversity-based quality differentiation and high-end markets, is badly neglected by science, plant breeders and development agents. To us the lack of adequate terminology to describe durian flavour diversity is striking: “Pungent”, “creamy”, “stinky”, that’s how far the vocabulary goes, as if a product as complex as good wine, coffee or cocoa deserves no better. Particularly appalling is the continued comparison – as in the BBC article –  of durian’s fragrance with “sewers and dead animals”. Terrible perpetuation of Western flavour prejudice by those who should know better! It is as if producers of Roquefort obstinately referred to the smell of old socks in describing and promoting that marvellous cheese.





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