While some crops have entire research institutes devoted to their development and promotion, hundreds more have been neglected by agricultural science, their potential untapped. But why have these plants been neglected? Can they ever become mainstream foods, enjoyed by rich and poor alike, and do they have anything special to offer? Many thrive in marginal environments, and perhaps contain genes that could help other crops cope with climate change, but what kinds of support are needed to uncover their potential? In this resource pack, champions of the world’s underutilised crops discuss how to promote these forgotten plants, particularly in the context of food security, nutrition and health, income generation and environmental sustainability.
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Every nation has its national treasures. Egypt has its pyramids; Zimbabwe and Zambia share the Victoria Falls and Malawi has its great lake. But according to Dr Jackie Hughes, who is Deputy Director-General for Research at the World Vegetable Centre, every country in the world has national treasures which are both nutritional and known for helping fight off disease. They are the plants that were once an important part of our diets but have fallen out of favour as other crops have taken over.
We are blessed in Africa by great variety of indigenous fruits, nuts and leafy green vegetables. These wonderful foods are packed with vitamins and minerals that help to keep the human body in good health. A lot of them are also resistant to pests, and can tolerate tough conditions like drought and floods. But, like indigenous crops the world over, they have been neglected and even forgotten. Why? Our Ugandan correspondent Wambi Michael was in Arusha at an international symposium on neglected crops. He asked scientists from Nigeria, Belgium, Sri Lanka and Rwanda, to explain what could be done to bring neglected crops back and, firstly, how they went out of fashion in the first place.
Of all African trees, perhaps the baobab is the most wonderful. These mighty trees can live for as long as five thousand years. The baobab has provided us with food for generations. In fact its seeds were found in the stomach of a man who lived on earth thirty thousand years ago. This shows that this tree has long been an important source of food. But despite its long history, eating the baobab has been going out of fashion. However there are signs it is making a comeback, with growing demand in European markets and in semi-arid areas of Africa. Professor Gordana is team leader of a sustainable land management project in northern Ghana. She is enthusiastic about baobab, and she explained to Benedict Komba where in Ghana, and when, the baobab is especially important.
Many African meals now include exotic vegetables like carrot, tomato, onion and cabbage. These are crops that were introduced here and have really taken off. But all over Africa, there are nutritionists, scientists and researchers who are trying to convince us to kick out the carrots, turn down the tomatoes and welcome back indigenous leafy vegetables onto our plates instead. In Kenya no one is more enthusiastic in this message than Judith Kimiywe from Kenyatta University. As Winnie Onyimbo found out when she met her, Dr. Kimiywe’s love of traditional but neglected crops began when she was a very small child.
We use plants for very many different reasons: as food, to make money or in cultural ceremonies. It is the social aspects of plants, particularly the ones that are now neglected, that are often overlooked. Coming up, four people - working in Latin America, West Africa and southern Africa - share the stories of farmers who have decided to spend time in their gardens, farms and forests to nurture plants that are considered neglected.
All African countries have traditional leafy vegetables. In many places these have been neglected, but not in Tanzania. In Arusha – which is in the north of the country - the last ten years has seen a steady increase in trade in a whole range of traditional vegetables in the town’s biggest market. So why is Tanzania ahead?
For a long time, amaranth has been considered as a stubborn weed in farmers’ fields and food for the poor during hungry times. But now this neglected but nutritious plant is becoming an important cash crop. Because it is now a good earner, farmers want to know how they can get the best yields of amaranth. A study carried out in the western part of Kenya, has shown that planting amaranth with soybean, both increases fresh leaf yields and improves the quality of the soil. Talking with Pius Sawa at an international symposium on neglected plant species in Arusha, Tanzania, is Marion Nduta Ng’ang’a from Moi University in western Kenya. She begins by explaining that amaranth in Kenya has a long, long history...
Often we think that agricultural research centres are full of the latest crops and solutions to our farming problems. But at the World Vegetable Centre they are devoting a lot of space and effort to ancient African crops. Amongst the plots of traditional leafy vegetables Lazarus Laiser came across Omary Ijumaa, a research assistant, at work as usual. So he asked Omary to explain what he now knows of our forgotten crops and how he shares it with others who come to visit.
What are the secrets of staying healthy? Eating a balanced diet is definitely one of the most important. At a recent conference in Arusha, Tanzania, delegates have been discussing some of the world’s forgotten foods – vegetables, nuts and fruits that are no longer widely grown. Many of these crops are extremely nutritious. Green leafy vegetables like nightshade, for example, contain high levels of iron and vitamins. Mama Ndelifose Nanyaro is a farmer who lives in Nambala village, not far from Arusha. She spoke to Lazarus Laiser about how growing indigenous African vegetables has helped to make her life better.
Take a look at the international market and you will see that several of the world’s neglected or underutilised crops are making a comeback. Whether for their leaves, fruits, tubers or roots, we are rediscovering niche markets for these long-forgotten plants, and farmers are making money from supplying the demand. Some are sold fresh. Others are processed into nutritious foods while others are used for their medicinal properties, that ease some of the symptoms of the problem diseases of our time. So how can we know what the market wants? Rose Reuben met two marketing specialists from two parts of the world. Professor Patrick Van Damme is based in Belgium and Koublan Edmond Koffi works in Cote d’Ivoire. Rose began by asking them both for examples of new markets for old crops.