Unlocking the Potential of Orphan Crops in Africa

A Scientific Effort to Make More Food and Add More Nutrients

Mars is a founding member of the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) — an effort to improve the nutritional content, yield and resilience of the 101 most important crops in Africa.

African orphan crops are food crops, such as okra, finger millet and spider plant that are primarily grown by women in the rural sector for their families. Because they are not in the world’s most-traded commodities, they have been neglected by research and development, which is why they are often described as “orphaned” and “underutilized.” After selecting 100 orphan crops with the help of scientists, plant breeders, and farmers from all over Africa, the Executive Council of the African Union requested that the Baobab, the icon of Africa, be included as number 101.

Learn More From Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro

Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro is chief agricultural officer at Mars, Incorporated, senior fellow in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, is a distinguished fellow at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, and leads Mars’ involvement in the African Orphan Crops Consortium.

Why Do Orphan Crops Matter?

Orphan crops are the “back garden” crops of rural Africa and are often very high in vitamins, minerals. Improving them will greatly improve diets for people affected by hunger and malnutrition.

(Left to right) bambara groundnut, hyacinth bean and African cabbage are three of the 101 plants being sequenced by the African Orphan Crops Consortium.

Read more about the rise of Africa’s nutritious indigenous greens here

What Does the Consortium Do?

The AOCC is sequencing, assembling and annotating the genomes of the 101 selected orphan crops and putting 100% of the data into the public domain. Plant breeders will be able to use this data to breed varieties that are higher yielding, contain more nutrients by weight, are more resilient to climate change and drought, and resistant to diseases using a combination of traditional breeding methods and modern genomic technology.

The African Plant Breeding Academy

The AOCC has created a breeding academy in Nairobi, Kenya to train plant scientists to domesticate and breed new varieties of these 101 crops. The African Plant Breeding Academy will train a total of 250 new plant breeders over five years from countries all over Africa. In December 2014, the first class of breeders graduated, that now can help translate the work into smallholders’ fields in their home countries.

The first class of new plant breeders and scientists celebrate graduating from The African Plant Breeding Academy.

Who Is in the Consortium?

The AOCC is comprised of environmental experts and a diverse partnership of companies, non-governmental organizations and academic institutions, including Mars, Incorporated. It was launched in 2011 at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Mars is one of the founding partners in the African Orphan Crops Consortium

To read more about this initiative, visit the African Orphan Crops Consortium Website .

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