Research focusing on traditional crops that are often ignored and known as “orphan crops” shows they contain minerals and vitamins that are essential for the body and are mostly consumed by rural African people. Various agricultural research institutions in Africa are currently carrying out research on these crops mainly to improve yields and controlling and lowering disease tolerance.
This is because there is need to urgently match Africa’s booming population with adequate food systems because if people are well nourished they become healthy and productive which is good for development. As the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) puts it, “good nutrition begins with food and agriculture.”
The continent is the second most populous after Asia with about 2.1 billion people. One in three people suffers from some form of malnutrition according to the 2016 Global Nutrition Report. Societal costs of malnutrition have resulted in 11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) being lost every year in Africa.
Whereas the levels of stunting are generally on a decline over the past decade statistics are still unacceptably high with over 58 million of Africa’s children stunted. Beyond the social cost, FAO notes that the cost to the global economy caused by malnutrition, as a result of lost productivity and direct health care costs, could account for as much as 5 percent of GDP, equivalent to $3.5 trillion per year or $500 per person.
At the Graça Machel Trust we believe that good nutrition must start at an early stage, for example, the first 1,000 days from conception to birth are very critical. We work with key regional partners to increase capacity and build up the institutional establishment of national civil society nutrition networks. Strengthening these national civil society nutrition networks helps to keep nutrition advocacy in Africa on the global agenda.
Focusing on orphan crops
Now new research is looking at innovative ways to boost agricultural production to feed the continent’s booming population by focusing on the orphan crops that have been used for many years by Africa’s poor to relieve famine.
Agricultural research is mainly concerned at increasing yields, adding of essential nutrients otherwise known as crop biofortification, and control and lowering of diseases. Research has particularly been targeted at traditional vegetables because there are highly nutritious. Read more