‘Forgotten’ plants a boon for biodiversity

World Agroforestry and collaborators 'adopt' orphan crops
Baobab fruit hang from tree branches
The Sindri village (Kongoussi area) Baobab fruit called Monkey Bread, which local people call theodo, Burkina Faso. CIFOR/Ollivier Girard

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A disproportionate three quarters of human food consumption derives from only 12 plant species and five types of animal, according to a story published as part of “Follow the Food,” a series produced by Britain’s BBC.

More than half of plant-based calories and proteins derive from the three main staple crops, rice, maize and wheat.

Yet, at least 30,000 of the 350,000 known plant species are edible, according to the story. Despite this massive potential, only 170 species of plant are cultivated for food to a significant degree.

But uniformity can put plants in jeopardy. They are susceptible to disease and pests, food security risks that are exacerbated by climate change and tend to increase as diversity dips, which is why biodiversity is important in this context.

One potential pool of diversity is found in “orphan crops” – crops domesticated and cultivated on a smaller, more local scale.

Prasad Hendre is laboratory manager at African Orphan Crops Consortium, a partnership including World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AU-NEPAD Agency), Mars Incorporated, World Wildlife Fund and University of California, Davis.

“Almost all the local African food crops are a storehouse of nutrition, energy and health promoting substances,” he told BBC.

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