Acharity supported by the Duchess of Sussex has planted climate change resilient super-crops in its gold medal winning garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
The crops, which have been developed by scientists backed by UK aid, are also enriched with key vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A and iron, to tackle “hidden hunger” in developing countries.
They are on show at Camfed’s vibrant “Giving girls in Africa a space to grow” garden and have been bred to be resilient to drought, pests and diseases.
Because the plants are naturally bred – rather than genetically modified – they pose no threat to competing gardens at the show, royal or otherwise.
They include biofortified varieties of maize, beans and sweet potatoes and are in a garden which, unusually for Chelsea, evokes a rural Zimbabwean school yard – complete with dusty red earth, a black chalkboard and orange trees.
While Meghan was not involved in creating the garden, Camfed, which works to alleviate poverty and empower girls in developing countries through education, was one of three charities fans sent donations to as part of the "global baby shower" campaign.
The Duchess has a long history of supporting women’s causes abroad, and recorded a message for the charity’s gala in New York just before she gave birth. It was reported earlier this month that she and her husband Harry may move to Africa.
The garden, designed by Chelsea newcomer Jilyane Rickards, won a much-coveted gold in the “Space to Grow” category at the flower show.
“I just wanted it to be authentic and real, but you never know how that’s going to go down with the judges – it was a fine balance with the Chelsea polish,” Ms Rickards told The Telegraph.
“When we think of gardens in England, we just think of flowers looking lovely. The women I met in Zimbabwe think of gardens as food, that’s the bottom line.”
The super-crops on show at the Africa-inspired garden were developed as part of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) drive to improve the diets of millions of people around the world.
Currently some two billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition, while roughly 800 million are chronically malnourished – with women and children disproportionately affected.
Experts warn that this figure could rise as rising temperatures and weather extremes threaten food security.
“I’m proud that the DFID is not only part of the first ever RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden to showcase climate-smart crops, but that we are also working with Camfed to train female entrepreneurs in sustainable farming methods to support their communities in Zimbabwe,” said International Development Secretary Rory Stewart.
He added that he hoped the garden would inspire visitors to “take their own steps to help tackle climate change”.
The UK has quietly invested more than £100 million into developing biofortified varieties of 12 staple food crops, which have so far been adopted in 30 countries in Africa and South Asia.
DFID announced an additional £33 million at an event at the Camfed garden on Tuesday evening, for a project with the International Potato Centre and HarvestPlus (part of the international research system CGIAR) to reach thousands more farmers through an improved supply chain.
As well as the modified crops on show at Chelsea, the project will invest in vitamin A enriched cassava, iron enhances millet and zinc fortified wheat and rice. DFID say they will improve the health and nutrition of almost 14 million households by 2022.
Clarah Zinyame, a farmer from Zimbabwe and part of the Camfed alumni network, has been planting the biofortified maize, beans and sweet potatoes in her 35 hectare farm in Chikomba West since 2014.
“Making use of this technology has made a great effect,” she told The Telegraph. “I used to operate a very big space but with a low yield. When I started using biofortified crops, I used a smaller space but with a higher yield.”
Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser at DFID, said that the crop’s resilience was key to encouraging farmers to continue to plant them.
“Farmers don't adopt these crops because they are only vitamin rich, it is also because they have high yields and are resistant to dry spells, pests and diseases,” she said. “Our crops have all of these traits.”
But the health benefits of the modified super-crops are also striking.
A small portion of the orange sweet potato enriched with vitamin A can provide women and children with 100 per cent of their recommended daily intake, while fortified beans provide up to 80 per cent of required iron.
Research is also emerging which suggests that the crop improves night vision and reduces diarrhea in children.
“This investment in biofortification is incredibly important to tackle hidden hunger caused by a lack of essential vitamins in people's diets,” said Professor Watts. “What we’re aiming to do through this investment is basically to improve nutritional intake through the existing food system.
“It’s the modern face of development, because it isn’t something that’s depending on constant financial inputs - it works for farmers in existing systems,” she added. “Camfed's garden highlights so well the opportunities that science and innovation provide.”
The garden also includes solar powered irrigation pumps and lights developed with UK aid.
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