The report, by the National Research Council of America, was released 30 January and is the third in a series by the council called 'Lost Crops of Africa'. A panel of experts from various African countries, with input from ordinary workers, looked at the sustainability of growing a range of indigenous African fruits and the effect it could have on combating malnutrition and poverty in the continent.
Twenty-four fruits were chosen for their potential to contribute to nutrition — particularly for children — and economic development. Among these are aizen, balanites, baobab, butterfruit, ebony, marula and tamarind.
The report advocates not only large-scale farming, but encourages individuals to select their best crops and share them with others for propagation, saying collaboration between amateurs and professional horticulturalist and scientists will be key to success.
Jane Guyer, professor of anthropology at the US-based Johns Hopkins University and a member of the panel for the report, points out that these crops are already valued and used in many parts of Africa.
"These crops were never lost to the people; they have just been lost to the kind of agricultural science that focused mainly on internationally commercialised crops."
Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I: Grains
Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables
Lost Crops of Africa: Volume III: Wild fruits
United Press International - USA Study: African fruit is untapped resource
Listen to a radio interview on the future of Africa's neglected crops:
Download (MP3) Voice of America- Podcast of 28 May 2009
Transcript of the radio podcast:
Professor Adi Damania says research and promotion could help find wider markets for Africa's local cropsOne food expert who’s optimistic is plant geneticist Adi Damania of the Department of Plant Resources of the University of California (at Davis).
He’s encouraged that two international centers for agricultural research are looking into the issue: the West Africa Rice Development Center based in Benin and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics with offices in Malawi, Kenya, Mozambique, Mali and Zimbabwe.
Damania says researchers should not only document the use of the crops, but work to improve their yields, especially in light of warming global temperatures that will likely require all foods growning in Africa to become more drought-resistant.
He says research should also help determine how to keep all produce fresh, including Africa’s localgrains, vegetables and fruits. “A very very large proportion of African grain harvests,” he says,“ is lost due to a lack of proper storage facilities.” He says one solution would be to build concrete warehouses that keep out rodents and insects that devour harvests.
Many native crops are more drought resistant than imported varieties.Damania says governments and international agencies could create an advertising campaign to boost the local sale and even export of Africa’s native crops.
“The best [way],” he says, “would be more publicity through radio and TV programs [and] visits ofhigh-profile people. “Princess Diana’s involvement in getting rid of the landmines and fighting HIV really helped. So, [it would really help] if similar high-profile people will get involved in promoting research onAfrica’s local foods.”
Damania says the continent is rich in resources, traditions, and indigenous knowledge. He says these include native food crops which with the judicious use of funds, can help end Africa’s food insecurity.