World Vegetable Day? How do you like the ring of that? I do, but for now, it’s an aspiration, not a reality. But in reading over a chapter in the just-released State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet from the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute (where I’m a senior fellow), I got to thinking: how about it? Why not, particularly in a world (ably and fascinatingly explored in State of the World 2011) with chronic hunger, rising food prices, a climate crisis, and accelerating needs for more and better food production? Instead of more commodity crops – or animal-based foods – why not a global commitment (and yes, a day of acknowledgment) to growing more vegetables, multiple varieties?
Here’s what Abdou Tenkouano, author of a chapter in State of the World, writes:
An agricultural revolution that works for farmers, for businesses, and for the environment will involve more than just producing enough calories of rice, cassava, or wheat. It will also need to include amaranth, cowpea leaves, African nightshade, spiderwiki, and African eggplant–the vegetables that make those staples taste good.
However, notes Tenkouano, director of the World Vegetable Center’s Regional Center for Africa, located in Arusha, Tanzania, that “…research on vegetables is underfunded just when it is most critical,” and adds:
Staple crops, with their long cropping cycles, tend to be more vulnerable to environmental threats and the risk of crop failure. In contrast, vegetable crop species, have shorter cycles, are faster growing, require little space, and thus are very dependable…vegetables are the sustainable solution for a diversified and varied diet.
A pretty convincing argument, I’d say. And there’s more: a State of the World 2011 symposium on creating a sustainable food system and, in the process, reducing hunger and poverty, held in Washington, D.C., January 20th. It featured Nourishing the Planet project co-director Danielle Nierenberg and speakers from the U.S., Uganda, and South Africa. Watch the video of the symposium and for a cracklng blog and videos from the Nourishing the Planet project, chock full of examples of communities and countries creating new agricultural models based on sustainability and equity, drawn from research trips Danielle Nierenberg made to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, visit the Nourishing the Planet website.