Seeds – the alternative of the future to combat climate change and food insecurity

According to the FAO (UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization) seeds are the alternative of the future to combat climate change and food insecurity. Victor Delgado Morales, PhD student candidate from the Peruvian partner university UNALM, has developed a research project focusing on gluten-free Lupine (Lupinus mutabilis Sweet) and chia (Salvia hispanica L.) cookies. He says that seeds are highly nutritious and have functional importance. Peruvian lupine, known in Peru as tarwi, is widely cultivated and consumed in the Andean high-altitude areas. Currently tarwi receives a lot of attention because of its high protein content, oil and fiber. Chia seeds in turn are widely distributed in Mexico and Central America and occupy an important market in countries such as Argentina and Bolivia, gaining interest in the field of food science and technology because of the high content of soluble and insoluble fiber and the presence of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron.

Victor is a teacher at the Food Technology Department of the Faculty of Food Industries doing his doctoral thesis in the Food Sciences program of UNALM. At the University of Turku, where he is currently doing an exchange period under the PECOLO project, he is developing his research with the support of Dr. Jukka-Pekka Suomela and other teachers and students of the Department of Biochemistry.

Victor Delgado in the laboratory at the Dept. of Biochemistry of UTU.

The objective of his research is to study the characteristics and physiochemical composition of white and black chia seeds which, in addition to the aforementioned properties, are quite important due to their high oil content with a good fatty acid profile. By using gas chromatography he has worked on the identification and quantification of fatty acids present in chia oil. After having made the chromatographic analysis he has managed to determine a fairly interesting fatty acid profile with the predominant fatty acid being linolenic acid, corresponding to a group of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids – better known as omega-3. This fatty acid is highly valued for its positive properties. In addition, Victor is determining the antioxidant capacity of chia seeds, which will allow a clearer understanding of the conditions to be taken into account when using the seeds in food products.

Victor is one of the 4 PhD exchange students from Peru and Colombia who are doing an exchange period between 2-4,5 months at the University of Turku. The exchange periods funded by PECOLO offers new perspectives to the Peruvian and Colombian students working one way or another with topics related to Andean crops, agriculture or food and nutrition. In addition, it allows Turku University to continue the long term cooperation with UNALM, as well  as to identify future collaboration possibilities with Colombians. Last but not least, the project and the research of the students allows us at Turku University to learn more about Andean crops, agro-food sector and food and nutrition in Peruvian and Colombian context!

The original blog post written by Victor is in the Spanish version of this page, here.

2nd round of workshops in Colombia & Peru

Earlier this month, Hanna Lakkala, Juha Kaskinen and I (Marianna B. Ferreira-Aulu) visited Bogotá and Lima to run the second round of workshops for the project “Native crops for sustainable and innovative food futures in Peru and Colombia – PECOLO” together with local partners.

PECOLO project is a collaboration between Universidad el Bosque (UEB) in Bogotá, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM) in Lima, and the University of Turku (UTU). It is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, and has the objective of developing innovation environments around Andean native crops using methodologies and tools of futures studies, as well as to foment high quality research on sustainable and nutritious Andean crops.

The process of the PECOLO project goes as follows:

Figure 1. Process of the PECOLO Project.

On the 1st workshop in November 2017, participants did an Environmental Scanning of the Andean food and agriculture sector in each country. An adapted version of the Futures Wheel was used as a tool for organizing ideas and inspiring discussion. Futures Wheel is a brainstorming method developed by the Millennium Project co-founder Jerome Glenn that helps to identify megatrends, trends, weak signals, events and decisions of certain topics. In our version of it, the “current state-of-the-art wheel” was used to current situation and topics related to the food and agriculture sector. (read more about the first workshop here)

The second round of workshops was conducted in early May 2018. A 2-day program was ran in both universities: UEB and UNALM. On the first day, FFRC director Juha Kaskinen gave a lecture on scenario thinking for the teaching staff, as well as masters and doctoral students. On the second day, a workshop for non-academic partners was organized, where local experts could exercise scenario building in practice. The experts were invited by our partner universities (UEB and UNALM), and they were coming from governmental institutions, private companies, NGO’s and active members of the civil society. In addition to me, all other facilitators were local, and they participated on the lecture of the first day.

Figure 2 . One of the groups discussing in Universidad el Bosque, in Colombia.

Based on the results from the first workshop conducted in 2017, participants selected (from the futures wheel produced) six important factors for agricultural innovation system considering PESTEC aspects (Politic, Economic, Social, Technologic, Ecologic and Cultural), and constructed a Futures Table.

The table consisted on nine lines and five columns. The six important factors picked from the results of the first workshop became variables on the table, and participants filled in four different futures states for each of these variables, using their expert knowledge of the field. Also Megatrends, Black Swans and Weak signals affecting all futures states were stated. Once the table was completed, participants drew paths for desirable, avoidable, and probable scenarios, which were then described as narratives. This is the process we used to create the scenarios for the agricultural innovation system in 2030.

Here is an example of a complete Futures Tables, for illustration purposes:

Figure 3. Example of the complete Futures Table of one of the expert groups.

Following this work, the next steps are to build roadmaps for these desirable futures (in autumn 2018) and finally, to develop action plans and recommendations to various interest groups (in Spring 2019).

Preliminary results

Preliminary results from this second workshop shows that experts of both countries, Peru and Colombia, are hungry for more cooperation between sectors of the society. They understand the significance of public-private partnerships and associations, and advocate for transfer of technology (ToT) across different sectors. A common theme in the workshops of both countries was also the improvement of the lives of rural communities and the value of the knowledge of traditional populations for developing innovative systems in the food and agriculture systems.

Peruvian and Colombian experts invited to our workshops are tuned in with a growing need to obtain food certifications, as informed consumers in the global market demand information not only on the nutritional value of the foods, but also how products are produced and how workers are being compensated for their work (for example with Organic and Fair Trade certifications).

In Colombia, a key driver for a sustainable food system is the formalization of land tenure. Historically, this has been a slow and ineffective process, but improvements on this sector are noticeable since the commencement of the peace process. Futures Tables and Scenarios produced by the Colombian groups show that when formalization of land tenure is done more efficiently and democratically, it triggers several other improvements: a better use of productive land, opportunities for land planning and environmental managements plans, as well as a more rural social development. Formalization of land tenure in Colombia can foment small-scale and organic farming and ensuring a diversity of crops and cultivation methods.

In Peru, experts are mainly focused on yet a different aspect: the health benefits of Andean crops. Quinoa, kiwicha and other Andean crops are considered super foods, and all Peruvian groups included the growth of healthy foods in the global market in their Futures Tables and Scenarios. Food security and the elimination of hunger and malnutrition is also an important concern for the Peruvian experts, and several groups advocate for including nutrition and culture of healthy eating in educational programs across the country.

Visiting UNALM quinoa and Kiwicha plantation

Figure 4. Quinoa plantation in Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Peru.

We had the opportunity to visit the quinoa and kiwicha plantation of UNALM. There, varieties of these plants are cultivated inside the university campus, and student have easy access to samples and various information of the plants that can be used for their studies and research.

Figure 5. Marianna Ferreira-Aulu holding a branch of the quinoa plant in Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Peru.

Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that has been used around the world as a substitute to rice and couscous in various dishes. From a side dish to the main ingredient in a fresh salad, quinoa is growing popularity high nutrient content. The UN named 2013 as the ‘International Quinoa Year’.

Figure 6. Kiwicha from the greenhouse in UNALM, Peru

Kiwicha (amaranthus caudatus), also known as amaranth, or amaranto, is a grain that has been cultivated in the Americas for over 7,000 years. There are over 1,000 varieties of amaranth in the Andes, many of them being studied in UNALM. The kiwicha plants in UNALM are cultivated inside a greenhouse with a doubly-sealed entrance to ensure no pests would enter the greenhouse with us.

This is a high-protein cereal, and due to its rich nutritional proprieties, has been sent to space to serve as food to astronauts.  Due to its fast growth and easy maintenance, it is suggested to be “the food of the future”. Read more here (in Spanish)

We also received samples of Tarwi products from one of our workshop attendees. Tarwi is a highly nutritious Andean lupin. As a bean, it is consumed in salads and hot dishes, and as a flour, it is added in desserts, fruit purée, and recovery drink for athletes. Highly versatile, the production of lupin for commercial use is still very small. Could it be that Tarwi is a weak signal soon ready to become a growing trend in the global market?

Marianna Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu

All photos by Marianna Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu