The analysis of 21 value chains in 5 countries for the six crops oats, triticale, hull-less barley, lupin, faba bean and buckwheat in the CROPDIVA project was intended to provide general insights into the structure, development and functioning of value chains of these crops. The case studies on value chains in the feed (9 case studies) and food sectors (19) were based on interviews with the actors in the value chain, with breeders, traders, researchers, advisors, farmers, collection centres, processors and retailers.
The analyses showed a great diversity in the cultivation and use of underutilised crops in the countries considered. The current niche situation of these crops can be explained by past technological developments in the agricultural sector (replacement of horses with tractors, reduced feed demand), the focus of research, breeding and cultivation on main crops, such as wheat, (lock-in, path dependency, standardisation and different transaction costs).
Underutilised crops can contribute to making cropping systems more diverse and resilient with regard to climate change and pests. In that sense, they can play an important role in the transition to a more sustainable agricultural system. The successful development of the cultivation of underutilised crops pre-requisites a concomitant increase of the demand for feed or food products from these crops, which implies amongst others the development of new products. In order to achieve such a change in the agricultural and food system, cross-stage cooperation along the value chain is necessary. The focus of new products should be on food, as this is where the greatest potential for value creation is seen. This assessment is based on the trend towards a more plant-based diet and the vast possibilities for qualitative differentiation in terms of cultivation methods and origin.
The central challenge in building new value chains from underutilised crops are gaps in experience and knowledge. These gaps vary by crop and country. In some cases, breeding efforts are (still) underway for the crops under consideration, but this is rarely the case. Seeds are often imported, which can pose specific challenges in niche markets and implies that the seeds are not ideally adapted to local growing conditions. In agriculture, the cereals oats and triticale have a certain spread in all countries; cultivation practices here are also very similar to the main cereals wheat or barley. More critical gaps in knowledge are found in the crops hull-less barley, the legumes lupin and faba bean, and buckwheat generally and regarding the use of triticale in the food chain. This applies to different stages of the value chain and also affects consumers. Even if they know the crops, they very often lack knowledge of their preparation and use.
The development of products and the establishment of a value chain must be oriented towards the specific local or national framework conditions. These include, for example, the specific underutilised crop, the target market, the length of the value chain, the intended qualitative differentiation, the number of actors. The introduction should take place by means of cooperation along the chain and include actors who are close to the consumer.