Reinforcing under-utilised crops at the Portuguese living lab GPeaPort – The DIVINFOOD project

In Europe, an increasing number of consumers are embracing plant-based diets and reducing meat consumption. A 2021 survey found that around 30% of Europeans follow a flexitarian diet, focused on plant-base foods with occasional meat consumption. This dietary trend underscores the demand for improved, minimally processed, and nutrient-rich alternatives.
The DIVINFOOD project aims to develop food chains that value under-utilised agrobiodiversity, in order to act against the decline of biodiversity and meet the growing expectations of consumers for healthy, local products that contribute to sustainable food systems. DIVINFOOD operates holistically across the food chain, fostering collaboration among researchers, farmers, processors, market intermediaries, and consumers, to maximize cereals and legumes food chains, realizing their potential for diversified and healthy diets.

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Funded under the European Commission Horizon 2020 Sustainable Food Security call, DIVINFOOD boasts a consortium of 25 European institutions led by the Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement, in France, with four Portuguese partners: ITQB NOVA, Évora University, ADECA and Cooking lab. In Portugal, the project focuses on grass pea (Lathyrus sativus).
Carlota Vaz Patto coordinates the ITQB NOVA team engaged in DIVINFOOD, specifically the PlantX Lab. With a history of participatory research with local grass pea farmers in Alvaiázere, Portugal, the team has expanded its scope under DIVINFOOD to include a wider range of farmers and processors, establishing the Portuguese living lab, GPeaPort, under her coordination. Living labs are user-centric innovation systems that foster co-creation, integrating research and innovation within community contexts. GPeaPort aims to revitalize and value grass pea cultivation and use by enhancing varietal diversity and developing innovative food products with local food producers, consumers, chefs, cooks, small-scale processors, rural development associations, local authorities and researchers, using a citizen science approach.
At ITQB NOVA, the Genetics and Genomics of Plant Complex Traits (PlantX) Laboratory, led by Carlota Vaz Patto, specializes in molecular quantitative genetics applied to plant breeding. The lab focuses on identifying genes controlling complex interesting traits, such as disease/drought resistance or seed quality, to develop control models, scientific methods and molecular tools to assist precision breeding programs. Within the scope of DIVINFOOD, PlantX hopes to contribute to the diversification of grass pea production systems, through the improvement of its traditional varieties – boosting tolerance to drought, enhancing nutritional quality, and increasing production capacity. They hope to contribute, in collaboration with other Portuguese stakeholders, to diversify diets, by facilitating the implementation of alternative mild processing methods to obtain innovative food products.