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Opinion: Africa must re-adopt its orphan crops in the face of a changing environment

A large portion of Africa's people rely on several indigenous plant species for subsistence. These plants are often primary food sources for people and animals, and are also used for other non-food purposes. Most are farmed as food crops and are preferred by indigenous people and farmers. They are often hardy and tolerant, which means that they can be expected to survive better under varying climatic conditions.

But their agricultural importance is undervalued and they often play second fiddle to more commercial crops. Referred to as 'Orphan Crops' – they are not classified as major crops, and are under-researched and underutilised. Examples of orphan crops are: African persimmon, marama bean, prickly pear, guava, and marula.

Diversifying global food sources with orphan crops can be a vital tool in combating food and nutrition insecurity that are worsened by global change. Orphan crops have the ability to battle a range of stresses like droughts and extreme temperatures. But invasive species also threaten their survival.

Ken Bosma

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