Delivering Perennial New and Orphan Crops for Resilient and Nutritious Farming Systems

Supporting the diversification of African agricultural systems by the further integration of nutritious, perennial ‘new and orphan crops’ (NOC) is seen as an important means to address malnutrition in Africa. The approach may be of particular relevance in the context of climate change, with the diversification of food systems possibly supporting more resilient food provision in the face of more variable weather patterns. Here, we relate how perennial NOC can support dietary diversity at a subnational level within a seasonal context based on crop portfolios. We also explore the resilience of the production of perennial crops, based on year-on-year crop yield data for eastern and southern African countries provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database (FAOSTAT). These analyses support the role of perennial NOC in creating resilient food systems and indicate a potential for compensatory annual–perennial crop combinations, although further research is needed on this point. Making use of FAOSTAT country-level trend data, we also relate constraints and potential opportunities for perennial food crop production. We then explain how NOC are currently being promoted in the region, with specific reference to the work of the African Orphan Crops Consortium and its breeder-training programme. We discuss the challenges faced in delivering perennial NOC planting material to farmers, which are exacerbated by climate change, and the measures that are being taken to overhaul delivery systems.

Use of microsatellite markers for the assessment of bambara groundnut breeding system and varietal purity before genome sequencing


Maximizing the research output from a limited investment is often the major challenge for minor and underutilized crops. However, such crops may be tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses and are adapted to local, marginal, and low-input environments. Their development through breeding will provide an important resource for future agricultural system resilience and diversification in the context of changing climates and the need to achieve food security. The African Orphan Crops Consortium recognizes the values of genomic resources in facilitating the improvement of such crops. Prior to beginning genome sequencing there is a need for an assessment of line varietal purity and to estimate any residual heterozygosity. Here we present an example from bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.), an underutilized drought tolerant African legume. Two released varieties from Zimbabwe, identified as potential genotypes for whole genome sequencing (WGS), were genotyped with 20 species-specific SSR markers. The results indicate that the cultivars are actually a mix of related inbred genotypes, and the analysis allowed a strategy of single plant selection to be used to generate non-heterogeneous DNA for WGS. The markers also confirmed very low levels of heterozygosity within individual plants. The application of a pre-screen using co-dominant microsatellite markers is expected to substantially improve the genome assembly, compared to a cultivar bulking approach that could have been adopted.

Ho WK, Muchugi A, Muthemba S, Kariba R, Mavenkeni BO, Hendre P, Song B, Deynze AV, Massawe F, Mayes S. Genome (2016) Use of microsatellite markers for the assessment of bambara groundnut breeding system and varietal purity before genome sequencing. 59: 427-431, DOI: 10.1139/gen-2016-0029.

Africa’s Indigenous Fruit Trees: A Blessing in Decline

For probably as long as people have lived in Africa, they have eaten culturally and traditionally important indigenous fruits such as baobab, desert date, black plum, and tamarind. Farmers have been able to enjoy the fruit of these plentiful wild trees without developing any knowledge of how to propagate them successfully; they haven’t needed to.


Cemansky, R. (2015). Africa’s Indigenous Fruit Trees: A Blessing in Decline.Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(12), A291–A296.