Why We Need to Adopt More Orphan Crops

Why We Need to Adopt More Orphan Crops

Orphan crops, overlooked plants, or underutilized crops are not traded internationally but have a huge potential to ensure regional food security. These crops typically receive little attention in terms of research and policy compared to rice, wheat, and maize. Here are some reasons we need to start adopting more orphan crops.   

Orphan Crops Provide a Diversified Food System

A report published by the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai states that orphan crops provide a more diversified food system. They could be the ultimate weapon against climate change, decrease in agricultural resources, and overpopulation.

These overlooked crops can guarantee disease-free, satiated people despite the unpredictable weather and growing poverty. Their genetic diversity also offers essential information on how staple crops can be more tolerant of climate change. 

Orphan Crops Offer Balanced Food Options

Let’s take a look at some underutilized crops and their nutritional benefits.

  • Millet is high in magnesium, which can help with nerve and muscle function. It is also a reliable source of antioxidants.
  • Pigeonpea is high in protein and fiber.
  • Cassava is high in vitamin C and copper. 
  • Yam is an excellent source of fiber, potassium, manganese, copper, and antioxidants. 

It Offers Advantages to the Economy

Many countries rely on rice, wheat, and maize despite the different traditional crops in their area. Take Western and Central Africa for example. The main dishes in their region are orphan crop species like fava bean, Bambara groundnut, and finger millet.

The growing need to focus on indigenous endemic crops can resolve the rice crisis and expensive rice policies in the continent. Researchers even believe poverty in Africa could be better managed once the people’s perceptions of orphan crops are improved.

The New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is at the forefront of sharing the need to promote sustainable food systems that include orphan crops. Its main goal is to enhance the diets of about 600 million citizens of rural-sub Saharan Africa. 

They are More Affordable

Maize, wheat, and rice grow poorly in many parts of the world. But orphan crops only require a few inputs, making them more affordable. 

The plants provide farmers with the opportunity to practice sustainable farming. They can cultivate these plants in depleted soil and try multiple cropping. Pigeonpea, for instance, has a deep rooting system that makes them capable of not competing for resources with other plants. 

Other examples of underutilized orphan crops are cassava  and mullet. These plants are common in Africa, South America, and Asia. 

Orphan Crops Deserve Global Importance

Many think that orphan crops were completely taken for granted by people. But the truth is, many indigenous groups worldwide still rely on them for sustenance. The government and other international organizations need to pay attention to these crops now that we are in an era of climate change and economic crisis.

More research and policies should focus on orphan crops’ agricultural and economic benefits. It is also crucial for researchers to be given adequate resources and skills to study holistic approaches to different crop species.