PanAfricare Blog

Role of orphan crops in boosting food security


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One of the main challenges being faced by developing countries is food insecurity. This revolves around the unavailability of food in enough quantities, lack of enough resources to acquire food for nutritious purposes, unavailability, and inaccessibility of quality food.

Despite the efforts to promote agricultural activities to small-scale farmers, there has been a habitual preference to cultivate some crops to other important and more nutritious crops.

Orphan crops

In Kenya, some high-value orphan vegetables include cowpea leaves, jute mallow, pumpkin leaves, Amaranth, Bacella alba , spider plant, Black nightshade, and Crotalaria. These are vegetables that are very rich in elements such as iron, vitamin C among others. Though not highly embraced, they help in the reduction of malnutrition rates.

Most of the orphan crops fall into the category of traditional crops which have existed for centuries. It is important to note that the orphan crops also belong to the major groups of crops such as cereals, legumes, vegetables, root crops, and tubers as well as pseudocereals.

Current research efforts have identified indigenous crops as being relegated to Neglected and Underutilized Crop Species (NUCS) status. This is despite them having the potential to reduce food and nutrition insecurity, particularly for resource-poor households in Sub Saharan Africa.

Promoting production

Concisely, orphan crops are crucial and very essential in eradicating food insecurity in the developing world. Even though they have great benefits, these crops have received very little or no global attention by the science community. Promoting them plays a huge role in the diversity of plant genetic resources especially in technological investment of genetic plant modifications.

Promoting their research is crucial in achieving the adoption of these crops. Adoption can also be increased by investing more in the utilization of the crops with an aim of increasing knowledge on them. They can also be promoted by empowering the growing populations on the importance of these unexploited crops.

In Turkana County, PanAfricare IMPACT Program has successfully introduced some of the nutritive orphan crops such as Amaranth, Bacella alba , spider plant, and Black nightshade with the aim of diversifying household diets.

Article by Lucia Epur – PanAfricare Agriculture and Natural Resources Specialist and David Sande-Project Intern, EARTH University. This article 1st appeared in PanAfricare Impact Program Ekoi Newsletter, July Edition.