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6M euros for Neglected Crops

ITQB NOVA PI and GREEN-IT member Carlota Vaz Patto is part of DIVINFOOD, an international collaboration to promote sustainability in food systems.

All over Europe, more and more consumers are moving to plant-based diets. Over 75 million Europeans purchase vegan or vegetarian foods every year. Since 2016, the number of Europeans who have completely eliminated animal products from their diet have doubled. They are demanding better, minimally processed, and nutritious options.

DIVINFOOD, a 6M€ research project with the participation of ITQB NOVA’s Lab head and GREEN-IT member Carlota Vaz Patto, will work across the food chain, bringing together producers, processors, market intermediaries and consumers to maximize cereals and legumes food chains, realizing their potential for diversified and healthy diets. This team will invert the usual technological approach, by placing agricultural diversity at the root of food diversity.

The project has just been selected for funding under the European Commission Horizon 2020 Sustainable Food Security call. It involves 25 European institutions led by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, in France. The consortium includes three other Portuguese entities: Évora University, ADECA and Cooking lab.

Through an interdisciplinary effort, coordinated by a team of social scientists, this project will tackle underproducing short food chains in challenging geographic areas to maximize output, circumventing climatic and socioeconomic obstacles. "It is an important step to combat the food crisis through the promotion of healthy and sustainable plant-based diets”, states Carlota Vaz Patto. “By working with local communities of consumers, processors and farmers, we intend to demonstrate the importance of agrobiodiversity and the potential of  NUCs (Neglected and Underutilised Crops)”, adds the Principal Investigator at the Genetics and Genomics of Plant Complex Traits (PlantX) Laboratory. PlantX exploits the potential of national underused plant germplasm as source of interesting breeding traits, developing selection tools through different statistical genetic and genomic approaches to improve quality and resistance of crop varieties.

In Portugal, the focus of this project will be the chícharo (grass pea, Lathyrus sativus). This easily cultivated and highly nutritious grain legume is usually consumed in central Portugal – on a curious note, Alvaiázere, a village close to Coimbra, is considered the capital of chícharo. Here, it will be established a multi-actor territorial network and the base of the project grass pea Living Lab.

However, this product is widely unknown in the rest of the country and in Europe, making it a prime example of a NUC with incredible potential. The team expects to contribute to the diversification of production systems, by the improvement of existing grass pea traditional varieties (for drought tolerance, intercropping ability, and nutritional quality). Also, an additional contribution is expected on the diversification of diets, through the implementation of mild processing technics on the development of innovative food products.

                                                        ITQB NOVA PI and GREEN-IT member Carlota Vaz Patto

                                                                                     ITQB NOVA PI and GREEN-IT member Carlota Vaz Patto