What's the potential for the expanded use of Africa's "lost", or overlooked native crops?
One 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 grownin 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.
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.