Indigenous Crops Promoting Health and Contributing to Food Security

originally posted in Food tank blog

 

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), just twelve crops provide 75 percent of the world’s food. Three of these crops, rice, maize, and wheat contribute to nearly 60 percent of the protein and calories obtained by humans from plants. Since the beginning of the 20th century, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost.

Restoring interest and investment in indigenous crops may offer a solution to food insecurity and the increasing loss of biodiversity. Some traditional plant varieties can help improve nutrition and health, improve local economies, create resilience to climate change, revitalize agricultural biodiversity, and help preserve tradition and culture.

For example, the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC)’s Vegetable Genetic Resources System and Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste are working to catalog indigenous species of fruits and vegetables around the world. And Bioversity International, a research organization in Italy, is delivering scientific evidence, management practices, and policy options to use and safeguard biodiversity among trees and agriculture to achieve sustainable global food and nutrition security.

Botanical Explorer Joseph Simcox travels around the world, documenting and tasting thousands of crops. He traverses the wilderness, interviews villagers, and searches markets across the globe for rare and indigenous crops. Joseph helps preserve species and varieties that are in danger of extinction, improving biodiversity and distributing rare seeds to the public.

Food Tank has compiled 31 indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions across the globe. These foods are not only good for the environment, but delicious, too!

AFRICA

1. Bambara Bean: This tropical African bean is highly nutritious and resilient to high temperatures and dry conditions. The versatile seeds from this hardy plant are used in traditional African dishes, boiled as a snack, produced as flour, and extracted for oil.

2. Cowpea: This legume is one of Africa’s oldest known crops, and an estimated 200 million people depend on it as a staple. The cowpea can be beneficial for both human and environmental health, helping with the body’s absorption and breakdown of other foods and enriching soils.

3. Finger Millet: This African native variety of millet is one of the most nutritious cereal crops in the world. It is high in protein, the amino acid methionine, and has the third highest iron content of any grain.

4. Gemsbok Cucumber: The vines of the Gemsbok cucumber can be seen throughout the sandy deserts of southern Africa. The fruits are a stable to the Kalahari Bushmen and other tribes. The hardy nature of the plant merits attention as a sub-tropical desert crop. The vines are pest-resilient, tenacious and serve as a great ground cover over baking hot sand or soil.

5. Lablab: The native sub-Saharan African legume is a versatile food staple and an ideal grazing crop for goats, cattle, sheep, and pigs. It can be used as a cover crop to repair degraded land and restore nitrogen to the soil.

6. Marama: Often referred to as the green gold of Africa, the marama plant produces edible seeds high in nutrition above ground, and a high-protein tuber below ground. It is native to the Kalahari Desert and serves as an important crop in the region where malnutrition and food insecurity are high.

7. Marula: The versatile native African fruit tree is found in 29 sub-Saharan countries. Fruit from the marula tree has four times as much vitamin C as orange juice and its kernels are rich in antioxidants. Leaves from the marula tree are used to feed livestock; wood is used for bowls, drums, and stools while the tree’s bark has many medicinal qualities.

8. Safou: The safou tree is often referred to as the “butterfruit” for its rich and oily pulp. Native to the tropical forests of West and Central Africa, the safou is high in fats, calorie-dense, and rich in amino acids, micronutrients, and minerals.

EUROPE

9. Ermelo Orange: These Portuguese, medium-sized oranges are known for being sweet and juicy. The thin rind is a distinctive feature of the fruit grown in the region overlooking the Lima River where pesticides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers are forbidden.

10. Formby Asparagus: Formby asparagus is white at its base, green at its stem, and purple at its tip. Formby, a town near Liverpool, England, was once revered for the award-winning asparagus grown on its fine, sandy soil. The vegetable is high in protein, fiber, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. It also aids in protein synthesis, reduces calcium loss, and has antioxidant properties.

11. Målselvnepe Turnip: This distinct and strong-tasting turnip is considered a delicacy in northern Norway, where it is often consumed raw in addition to being used as an ingredient in stews, soups, and stir-fries. The hardy plant is high in vitamin C and potassium.

12. Perinaldo Artichokes: This unique thistle vegetable, also known as the French violet, is native to the Mediterranean region and was originally cultivated in ancient Greece. Perinaldo, a small Italian town in the far west of Liguria, is known for the production of the artichokes, which have no spines or choke and are violet in color. The edible flower bud is a good source of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and various minerals. This variety of artichoke is tolerant of cold temperature and drought and very hardy.

ASIA

13. Bitter Melon: Originally from the Indian subcontinent, the tropical and subtropical vine is grown largely throughout Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is extremely bitter. It is used in traditional medicine to relieve diabetes, and for the treatment of respiratory illnesses, wounds, skin diseases, and rheumatism.

14. Corchorus olitorius: This native shrub of the Philippines is the primary source of jute fiber. The leaves and young fruits are used as a vegetable and the dried leaves as a tea and soup thickener.

15. Jackfruit: Native to South and Southeast Asia, it is believed to have originated in present-day Goa, India. The jackfruit tree can produce between 100 and 200 large fruits a year, which are rich in vitamin C and protein. Jackfruit is hardy and requires very little maintenance while being resistant to pests and high temperatures.

16. Lemongrass: This widely used culinary herb is found in many Asian countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnamese, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Its subtle, citrus flavor is used in soups, teas, and curries. Lemongrass is high in minerals and essential vitamins, which help control blood pressure and prevent heart disease. It is also used for its essential oils, which possess anti-microbial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-septic properties.

17. Mungbean: The mungbean is native to the Indian subcontinent and cultivated today in India, China, and Southeast Asia, as well as in hot, dry regions in the Southern United States and Southern Europe. It is a key component of Asian diets and is valuable for its easily digestible protein. Its high levels of iron help improve the diets of the most vulnerable women and children while also fixing nitrogen in the soil, making it valuable for crop rotations.

18. Pomelo: This large citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit, and is often used in desserts, salads, drinks, and marmalades.

19. Rambutan: This red, tropical fruit is native to Southeast Asia and closely related to the lychee. The plant, which is also grown in the Caribbean and Africa, is used for its fruit, leaves, bark, and seeds, which are thought to have medicinal qualities.

20. Taro: This popular culinary plant is known for its root starch and leaves. It originated in southern Asia, but is know also recognized as a staple of African, Oceanic, and South Asian cuisines, and is gaining popularity in the western world.

AUSTRALIA AND OCEANIA

21. Bunya Nut: Bunya nuts have been consumed for generations by Australian Aboriginals. The nut is similar to the chestnut both in appearance and taste. The nuts grow on the enormous pines in the few rainforest regions of Australia, but these trees are becoming harder to find as a result of deforestation.

22. Kumara: The large, sweet, tuber is cultivated on many Pacific Islands and was a staple crop for hundreds of years. The vegetable is rich in complex carbohydrates and beta-carotene and a great source of protein, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and dietary fiber.

23. Lifou Island Taro: This taro plant, which is native to New Caledonia, has large leaves and sturdy stalks, which provide a key source of starch for many of the Pacific populations. The plant is high in calcium, iron, and protein.

24. Lifou Island Yam: This starchy tuber plays an important role in both nutrition and food security in many Pacific Island nations. The vegetable can be roasted, fried, grilled, boiled, smoked, or grated. Yams can be stored for a long time, and the vegetable has a social and cultural significance on many islands.

25. Perry Pear: This formerly wild variety of pears, otherwise inedible, is pressed for its juice. The pear juice is then transformed into a fermented alcoholic beverage, which can be either sparkling or still. The English introduced the perry pear to Australia, but its production is still very limited, and many of the perry pear varieties are critically endangered.

AMERICAS

26. Chayote: The chayote has been cultivated in Mexico for hundreds of years. The fruit, stems, and young leaves and tuber portions of the roots are eaten as a vegetable, both alone and plain boiled, and as an ingredient of numerous stews. The fruit is often used in children’s food, juices, sauces, and pasta dishes because of its softness.

27. Coconillo: This tropical relative of the Tomato has a large range in tropical South America. The Coconillo is sweet like a cherry, with the same savory flavor of a tomato. The tart, juicy fruits are commonly used to make beverages, and often used in pepper sauces and relishes served with meat or fish. Plants do not seem to be cultivated; rather the locals harvest the fruits off of wild plants.

28. Sapote: The sapote is a fruit tree from the lower parts of Central America. Its fruit is often eaten raw, and flesh is used to make jams, ice cream, and sauces. In Costa Rica is it used as a linen starch and in Guatemala and El Salvador the seed is used as a skin tonic, to reduce muscular pain, and to treatment rheumatic illnesses.

29. Sweet Corn Root: This tuber, also known as the dale dale, has been cultivated for a long time by the indigenous people of the Amazon basin. It thrives in the tropical wetlands and could be a food source for millions around the world.

30. Woodland Sunflower: This relative of the common garden sunflower used to be a staple food of the Native American people. It is a vigorous and hardy plant, producing abundant tubers that can be cooked just like potatoes. Plants are naturally found in woodland fringes from Illinois to Maine.

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Wakulima Young Uganda at the Master Card Foundation ‘Youth Africa Works 2015’

On October 29 and 30, 2015, The MasterCard Foundation hosted its first Young Africa Works Summit: Practical Solutions for Lifelong Success, in Cape Town, South Africa. And Wakulima Young Uganda was honored to be invited to the event.
This invite-only event brought together a community of 300 thought leaders from NGOs, government, funders and the private sector committed to developing sustainable youth employment strategies in Africa. It also directly involved young people to help understand and explore their journeys, including the challenges they face, in securing meaningful economic opportunities.
This year’s Summit focused on best practices and effective approaches for preparing young people for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in agriculture. Sub-themes included demand-driven skills development, mixed livelihoods and youth financial services.
During the summit, The MasterCard Foundation released preliminary findings from innovative research conducted over the past six months into youth employment behavior in Africa, where 600 million people are under the age of 25 and 72 percent of its youth live on less than US$2 per day. The Youth Livelihoods Diaries research highlights the extraordinary lengths that young people go to as they try to achieve sustainable livelihoods.
“There is a distinct lack of research into the daily lives of African youth as they seek secure, safe and better paid work,” said Ann Miles, Director of Programs, Financial Inclusion & Youth Livelihoods at the Foundation. “The agricultural sector is set to create eight million stable jobs by 2020 and up to 14 million if the sector is accelerated. We believe it has to feature prominently in development plans for the continent if we hope to achieve a prosperous future for young Africans.”
Preliminary findings of the Youth Livelihoods Diaries research project indicate that:
1. Young people in Africa need to have multiple jobs to survive. Although many of them pursue various micro-business ideas, they often find themselves also having to work in agriculture (sometimes just for household consumption). This experience causes many not to consider agriculture as a viable profession.
2. More than 50 percent of young people are able to save money. The majority are saving cash at home rather than using a bank account.
3. Young people are increasingly using technology, particularly mobile phones. Although this provides new opportunities, it also presents costs.
4. Information about jobs and skills acquisitions is seen as the greatest need for research participants.

In the final analysis from Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA, posed the question ‘What does Africa need to do differently and what do we all need to do differently?

The single most important thing, she said, is a mindset change.
Our youth are not a problem, they are the best thing that has happened to us today. And we need to nurture that .
If well invested, Agriculture, not Oil, not Gold, not Diamonds will transform the economies of Africa
The food market in Africa can not be fed or met from off shore processing, the cost is so much bigger than the current quick wins
Land is a means to economic empowerment and not a power tool whether at country or house hold level and must be reformed
Lastly, the technology we seem to be waiting for is already here, the real issue is access
What role does policy play in this? The government needs to support through policy, infrastructure, agricultural research, and extension programs that are appropriate for smallholders.
catalyzing private sector and markets: The African food market is worth almost a trillion dollars. How can ambitious African Youth tap into that opportunity?

6 incredible plants you might not have heard of

Tasty, nutritious crops that are clearly missing from your diet!

eggplant grown by Embaraga women's cooperative in Musanze, Rwanda
eggplant grown by Embaraga women’s cooperative in Musanze, Rwanda

All over the world local varieties of fruit, vegetables and grain are grown. Many are seemingly forgotten or are underutilized despite having outstanding nutritional or taste qualities. Some have good commercial potential and could be an excellent cash crop for a small scale or family farmers, aimed at the local, regional or international market.

Here are six traditional crops and six facts about them which might amaze you:

Amaranth leaves are usually picked fresh for use as greens in salads or blanched, steamed, boiled, fried in oil, and mixed with meat, fish, cucurbit seeds, groundnut or palm oil. It is gluten free and good for cardiovascular diseases, stomach ache and anaemia. It is a native species to the Andean region of South America, including Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. The leaves of the plant are frequently used in countries throughout Africa, the Caribbean, India and China

Moringa leaves are rich in protein, vitamins A, B and C, and minerals – highly recommended for pregnant and nursing mothers as well as young children.

Moringa is a genus of shrubs and trees with multi-purpose uses: its leaves, roots and immature pods are consumed as a vegetable. All parts of the moringa tree – bark, pods, leaves, nuts, seeds, tubers, roots, and flowers – are edible. The leaves are used fresh or dried and ground into powder. The seed pods are picked while still green and eaten fresh or cooked. Moringa seed oil is sweet, non-sticking, non-drying and resists rancidity, while the cake from seed is used to purify drinking water. The seeds are also be eaten green, roasted, powdered and steeped for tea or used in curries. Moringa is an important crop in India, Ethiopia, the Philippines and the Sudan, and is being grown in West, East and South Africa, tropical Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Florida and the Pacific Islands.

Moringa oleifera is the economically most valuable species and is native to South Asia, where it grows in the Himalayan foothills but is widely cultivated across the tropics. Nine species occur in eastern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and Somalia, of which eight are endemic to Africa.

Teff grains are white, mixed or red, with the white fetching the highest and red the lowest price. Teff accounts for about two-third of the daily protein intake in the Ethiopian diet and is mainly used for making different kinds of enjera (pancake-like flat bread), porridge and feed.

Teff is a staple food crop of Ethiopia and Eritrea, having originated and diversified there. It has been introduced to South Africa where it is cultivated as a cover and forage crop while it is cultivated as a cereal crop in Northern Kenya.

Cultivated finger millet was domesticated about 5 000 years ago from the wild subspecies in the highlands that range from Ethiopia to Uganda. It can be stored for up to two years without harmful pesticides, acting as a food reserve during the lean season. Cultivated finger millet was domesticated about 5 000 years ago from the wild subspecies in the highlands that range from Ethiopia to Uganda. Domesticated finger millet was then also farmed in the lowlands of Africa. This was introduced into India around 3 000 years ago, with the result that India is now a secondary centre of diversity for finger millet.

Bambara groundnut is known as a “complete food” as the seeds contain on average 63% carbohydrate, 19% protein and 6.5% fat, making it a very important source of dietary protein. It is a grain legume grown mainly by subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Bambara groundnut is a grain legume grown mainly by subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. It is cultivated for its subterranean pods, is extremely hardy and produces reasonable yields even under conditions of drought and low soil fertility. The pods are approximately 1.5 cm long, and may be wrinkled and slightly oval or round, containing one to two seeds. The colour of the seeds varies from black, dark-brown, red, white, cream or a combination of these colours. At harvest, i.e. when the pods ripen, the plant is extracted from the soil, exposing the subterranean nuts.

The nuts may be eaten fresh (i.e. boiled or roasted before they are dried) as snacks but the majority of the nuts are consumed after they are dried. The dried nuts, with very hard seed coats, are milled and sieved to yield very fine flour that is used to prepare a variety of dishes including dumplings, cakes and biscuits. Bambara groundnut is indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa where it is widely cultivated. The centre of origin is most likely North-Eastern Nigeria and Northern Cameroon, in West Africa. The species is also grown to a lesser extent in some Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

In different parts of Africa, the roots and fruits of the African garden eggplant are used as a sedative, and to treat colic and high blood pressure while the juice obtained by macerating the leaves is used to treat uterine complaints. Also, the extract of the leaves is used as a sedative and anti-emetic and to treat tetanus associated with miscarriages.

©West Africa Plants/Annette Gockele

If you’re ever in the mood to try something new, the good news is that there is certainly food you haven’t tasted before (and the list is growing)