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the developing world and thus contribute to global food security. In recent years, however, neglected food crops have come out of the shadows and are moving fast into the limelight of rural development in some Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in East Africa and elsewhere. Several national research systems are

supporting research on these forgotten species, though by no means to the same extent as research on industrial and staple crops such as palm oil, rubber, cocoa, tea, wheat, and rice. Nevertheless, global ef-

for Underutilised Species (GFU) and the International Centre for Underutilised Crops (ICUC). Indigenous food crop research has con-

centrated so far on a small number of key activities. But there have been numer- ous success stories in the reintroduction and commercialisation of underutilised indigenous food crops in places such as Ghana and India. In Ghana, for exam- ple, people are beginning to utilise the Bambara Groundnut, a legume related to cowpea and found locally throughout sub-

food crops could be essential in helping to diversify farming systems and thus contribute to global food security. ”

Jacques Diouf’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that over 800 million people do not meet their daily required energy needs from their diets

forts are underway to get these forgotten species onto the research and development track so that they can be improved, cul- tivated, sold and consumed once again. Some of the organisations that have

supported the research and development of indigenous crops include ACIAR (Aus- tralia), CTA, DFID (UK), the Interna- tional Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Mac Knight Foundation, the Syngenta Foundation and USAID. Research into the utilisation of Africa’s

neglected crops was boosted in late 2008 with the launch of a new organisation called Crops for the Future, which is set to further explore the potential of un- derutilised food species in the developing world. Te establishment of Crops for the Future came about through a merger of the Rome-based Global Facilitation Unit

62 | March 2011 New African

Saharan Africa. Scientists at the University of Nottingham believe that it may well be the future of vegetable protein in countries with particularly dry climates. It is a crop that grows where other legumes cannot. “What is significant, and what is

unusual about it, of course, is that it is drought-tolerant and is grown in areas which are too dry for other legumes,” says Dr Azam-Ali of the University of Notting- ham, “and that’s very important because most people’s food, certainly in developing countries, comes from vegetable protein, so you need a source of this in a dry climate. Bambara Groundnut provides that.” Funded by the European Union, re-

searchers at the University of Nottingham have carried out highly targeted research on Bambara Groundnut using special climate- controlled greenhouses. Computer modelling based on their re-

search and field experiments predicts that the crop could be suitable for a number of locations outside Africa. But it is not only Bambara Groundnut that is making a comeback. In Kenya, a

“ Neglected

recent study identified 57 indigenous fruit species in Mwingi District and showed that wild fruits form a key safety net for rural Kenyans during times of food short- age. Kenya is also reintroducing African Leafy Vegetables (ALV) to urban areas. Indigenous food crops might also have

strong export value to Western countries. Proponents of the “Slow Food” move- ment, an international association that aims to counteract the “Fast Food” cul- ture, also seek to protect cultural identities linked to food and gastronomic traditions worldwide. Te movement was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986. It has more than 800 local groups in 50 countries. Some neglected non-food crops have

also proved beneficial to Africa’s agricul- tural sector. Tere are several examples of oil-producing crops that can be used for cosmetics. Some of them double as food crops as well. Te Shea butter tree in West Africa is a good example. Tere are also many plants with medicinal properties that have potential for further production, especially by small-scale producers. So why have African scientists rarely

looked to their neglected indigenous crops to provide solutions to their food needs and for export? “One of the issues is that government

funding is usually provided for the main staple crops and only small amounts of funding are available to research the po- tential of new crops,” says Dr Hannah Jaenicke, Global Coordinator at Crops for the Future. “Whilst there are a number of researchers looking into indigenous crops, the hurdles to overcome are plenty: selec- tions need to be made, production and propagation systems to be studied, seeds or seedlings to be produced in significant quantities and good quality.” Dr Jaenicke also mentioned that often

large distances need to be covered to the research sites, which are usually located in less accessible parts of the country. Fur- thermore, it is also a matter of perception by the African crop scientists themselves: they see indigenous crops as old-fashioned and less attractive to the “sophisticated” urban population. “It is important to address all of these

issues through raising awareness using information that is based on solid data. Tis is one of the priority mandate areas of Crops for the Future,” says Dr Jaen- icke.

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