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Underutilized crops for the future, an untapped reservoir of genetic resources : The case of fonio

Barnaud A., Billot C., Vigouroux Y., Noyer J.L., Bakasso Y., Barry B., Camara M., Béavogui F., Pham J.L.. 2011. In : Les ressources génétiques face aux nouveaux enjeux environnementaux, économiques et sociétaux : Actes du colloque FRB, 20, 21, 22 septembre 2011, Montpellier (France). Paris : FRB, p. 42-42. Colloque FRB : Les ressources génétiques face aux nouveaux enjeux environnementaux, économiques et sociétaux, 2011-09-20/2011-09-22, Montpellier (France).

While over 7000 species are cultivated as agricultural or horticultural crops, food safety and nutrition worldwide are based on few crops. Wheat, rice and maize alone provide more than 50 % of plant energy. Agricultural research has mainly concentrated on these few "major" crops, neglecting the vast majority of cultivated species. Until now, despite the call for an increased use of underutilized crops to diversify alimentation and provide sustainable agriculture, those crops remain a largely untapped reservoir of agrobiodiversity. Are they really crops for the future? Fonio represents a promising crop. It is an indigenous staple cereal in Western Africa regarded as a valuable source of income, especially for small scale farmers. Fonio includes Digitaria exilis Stapf and D. iburua Stapf as well as wild related species (D. ternata and D. longiflora). Recent progresses in post-harvest technologies, which have long hampered the development of fonio cultivation, have increased its economic potential. The need to characterize its genetic resources and adaptive potential to the changing climate, and more generally fast evolving environmental pressures, is therefore more important. So far, fonio remains largely under-studied compared to other African cereals such as sorghum, millet and rice. Here, we discuss how the study, conservation and uses of fonio genetic resources can take advantage of methodological advances in other plant genetic research. Molecular resources can now be developed rapidly. Combined with innovative and multidisciplinary approaches, this will lead to an accurate estimation of fonio evolutionary history (including domestication), as well as an evaluation of the genetic resources and their dynamics. These approaches will allow a better understanding of on-farm diversity of fonio, the development of sound collecting and ex situ conservation strategies and appropriate crop improvement to ensure food security. This project benefits from the financial supports of Agropolis Resource Center for Crop Conservation, Adaptation and Diversity (, Agropolis Fondation (, IRD and Cirad (Action Incitative Stratégique 3-2010). (Texte intégral)

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