Improving Nutrition through African Orphan Crops

    03 March, 2014


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

    Things may be changing soon for some crops in Africa. A group called the African Orphan Crops Consortium says these plants are not getting enough attention. And it thinks they could help ease hunger and improve nutrition on the continent.

    Improving Nutrition through African Orphan Crops
    Baobab, known as the "wonder tree" because its fruit has antiviral properties and is rich in vitamins, will be the first of 100 crops whose genomes will be sequenced by the African Orphan Crops Consortium.

    The consortium opened the African Plant Breeding Academy last year in Nairobi, Kenya. The academy is the result of cooperation among international organizations. They are hoping to use genetic information from 100 African plants and trees that researchers have largely ignored, but food scientists say these crops have lots of possibilities.

    Howard Yana-Shapiro is a senior fellow at the University of California, Davis. He is also the chief agricultural officer and global director of Plant Science and External Research for Mars Incorporated - the candy company.

    Mr Shapiro says he began thinking about ways to improve nutrition at the local level after seeing how poor nutrition affects children in Africa and India. He says a woman who does not eat right during her pregnancy can affect the physical and mental health of a baby. These problems, he says, can not be corrected.

    Mr Shapiro spoke to VOA from Nairobi. He said the African Plant Breeding Academy will work on many different kinds of plants.

    He says hundreds of African plants have been ignored because they are not economically important in international trade. But food scientists say the plants still have value to people in Africa.

    The African Orphan Crops Consortium plans to train plant breeders and researchers over a one-year period about the genetics of these crops. The consortium hopes they will produce more food with higher nutritional levels.

    Mr Shapiro says anything researchers learn will be shared with the world without cost.

    And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English. For more agriculture stories, go to our website, where you can also find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports. I'm Christopher Cruise.