Plant Academy Returns to Tried-and-True Crops

Plant Academy Returns to Tried-and-True Crops

The African Plant Breeding Academy, which opens this month in Nairobi, will help reintroduce forgotten crops to scientists, technicians and farmers in Africa in an effort to combat hunger.

As farmers turned to corn, rice and wheat through the years, they shunned former staple crops that came to be considered “poor man’s food” and of little economic value on the market, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation article by author Maina Waruru.

But now, with corn, rice and wheat suffering effects of climate change, droughts, floods, disease and pests, scientists are re-examining hardy crops that are able to survive these tough conditions.

The academy has identified 100 crops that not only have the potential to eliminate hunger, but also to improve children’s diets, which often suffer from malnutrition.

The 100 plants include Ethiopian mustard, African eggplant, amaranthe, bananas, moringa, the marula fruit tree, and trusty, regular yams. The baobab tree — known for containing more antioxidants, vitamin C, calcium and potassium than oranges, bananas or spinach — is also on the list of crops to be re-introduced.

“Improving (the 100 crops) will greatly improve the diets of Africa’s children, helping to eliminate hunger and malnutrition,” said Tony Simons, director-general of the World Agroforestry Centre.

The institute was launched in 2011 by the African Orphan Crops Consortium, a group of international organizations and research institutions. The goal is to train 250 scientists and technicians over the next five years.

Small farmers will need to be educated on the benefits of growing and consuming these shunned crops and how to cultivate them.