Forgotten Crops May Hold Key to Nutritional Security


This Southern Burkina Faso farmer holds a handful of shea nuts, an orphan crop in Africa. (Catharine Watson/World Agroforestry Centre)
This Southern Burkina Faso farmer holds a handful of shea nuts, an orphan crop in Africa. (Catharine Watson/World Agroforestry Centre)

UC Davis is partnering in a global plant-breeding consortium that is fighting malnutrition and poverty in Africa by improving the traditional crops of the continent.

The African Orphan Crop Consortium ­­— conceived by Howard Shapiro, a senior fellow at UC Davis and the chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated — is making great strides in its ambitious attempt to map and make public the genomes of 101 indigenous African foods.

These “orphan” crops are crucial to African livelihood and nutrition, but have been mostly ignored by science and seed companies because they are not traded internationally like commodities such as rice, corn and wheat.

The genomic data on African orphan crops will help plant breeders more quickly select for traits that improve the nutritional content, productivity and resilience of Africa’s most important food crops.

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