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Enhanced crops to help fight hunger in Africa

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A family from Siaya County in western Kenya dries their crop of finger millet. The crop is among those orphaned on the continent. PHOTO | FILE

A family from Siaya County in western Kenya dries their crop of finger millet. The crop is among those orphaned on the continent. PHOTO | FILE |   NATION MEDIA GROUP

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI, TEA Special Correspondent

Posted  Saturday, February 14   2015 at  17:56

In Summary

  • They are the baobab, groundnuts, white sapota, custard apple, marula, African eggplant, drum stick, lablab beans, finger millet and the common bean.
  • They are among some 100 crop species identified as orphaned by African countries, and in need of improvement.
  • Orphan crops/tree species are those that have been neglected by researchers and the industry in general because they are not economically important on the global market.

At least 10 improved planting materials from orphaned crops will soon be released to smallholder farmers throughout Africa by the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

They are the baobab, groundnuts, white sapota, custard apple, marula, African eggplant, drum stick, lablab beans, finger millet and the common bean. They are among some 100 crop species identified as orphaned by African countries, and in need of improvement.

Orphan crops/tree species are those that have been neglected by researchers and the industry in general because they are not economically important on the global market.

The improved varieties are more resilient to adverse conditions including those brought about by climate change; are more resistant to pests; more nutritious; and produce higher yields. They have been under development since 2011 using advanced genomic technologies.

Such technologies are used to manipulate and analyse genomic information. Genomics is the study of genes and their functions.

According to Ramni Jamnadass, the science domain leader at ICRAF, the 10 crops identified on the continent are in the final stages of analysis before they are released into the market.

“They are among the 100 African crop species selected under the African Orphan Crops Consortium, whose genomes have been sequenced, assembled and annotated to produce a better variety for planting,” said Dr Jamnadass. “The new plant varieties grow in farm gardens all over Africa and are crucial for good nutrition on a continent where malnutrition remains a challenge.”

Dr Jamnadass added that the main aim of improving the crop varieties is to standardise their nutrients in order to enable farmers to get quality planting materials that produce high yields with high nutritious value.

The crops will help to fight the hidden hunger that is on the rise in developing countries.

Hidden hunger occurs when people get little essential vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat, causing them to remain undernourished.

It weakens the immune system, stunts physical and intellectual growth, and could lead to death. It wreaks economic havoc as well, locking countries into cycles of poor nutrition, lost productivity, poverty and reduced economic growth.

The crops will also meet the high demand for vegetables and fruits in African countries and thereby reduce hunger and boost food supply on the continent.

According to the 2014 Global Hunger Index, about two billion people in developing countries get few essential vitamins and minerals from the foods they eat, so they remain undernourished.

Malnutrition and chronic hunger are causing stunting in children across Africa. Stunted children do not reach their full potential — physically or mentally.

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