Africa Environment

Study highlights potential of Africa’s ‘forgotten’ food crops for climate resilience & nutrition

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Extreme climate change has made it extremely difficult for Sub-Saharan Africa to eradicate hunger. To meet the needs of a population that is expanding quickly, the area already faces difficulties in increasing the production of high-quality foods.

Crop diversification is defined as a shift from the regional dominance of one crop to the regional production of several crops, which is essential for preserving the equilibrium between food demand and supply in the face of climate change.

In order to produce healthy foods and support zero hunger policies, sub-Saharan Africa can support crop diversification by utilizing a number of traditional African plants that have evolved gradually over centuries with human food systems. However, due to a preference for Western food and a significant shift in land use in recent decades, these plants have largely been ignored by the conventional cropping systems.

Researchers have identified several “forgotten” (ignored) food crops in sub-Saharan Africa and have assessed their capacity to modify the major staples of the region’s cropping systems in response to climate change. .

According to the scientists’ theory, diversifying the production of staple foods could support future climate adaptability if a candidate forgotten food crop can continue to grow in a region alongside current major staples under projected climatic conditions in 2070. .

They have further hypothesized that if a candidate forgotten food crop can grow in an area under 2070 climatic conditions where current stables may no longer grow, it can help replace the major crops and design new cropping systems.

climate forecasting for regions with significant staple production.

The highest climate decline was found in West Africa, followed by Central Africa, in the climate change modeling for 2070 at locations still suitable for producing staples. For Southern Africa and East Africa, however, the decline was expected to be the smallest.

Climate change was expected to be most noticeable where maize and yams were produced. This suggests that these two mainstays require urgent diversification or replacement. Whereas rice and cassava can currently be grown, there will likely be little change in the climate there.

Food crops that have been forgotten and their potential to diversify or replace important staples.

The study model determined that the sub-regions of East Africa and Southern Africa had the greatest potential to diversify or replace four major staples (maize, rice, cassava, and yam) in 2070 out of a total of 138 candidate forgotten crops.

When future and still-suitable climate conditions were taken into account at the locations where major staples are produced, a higher coverage by candidate crops was found for still-suitable climates than for future climates.

Overall, these results show that neglected food crops can offer significant chances for replacing or diversifying the major staples of the present, which is necessary to create novel cropping systems that are climate-smart. .

The placement of each candidate crop into specific food groups revealed that the fruit group has the maximum number (n=60) of candidate crops, followed by the leafy vegetable food group. A minimal number of crops were identified in the roots and tubers group (n-7).

The study also identified a panel of 58 forgotten food crops from all the food groups and discovered that these crops have the highest coverage for still-suitable and future climates at production locations of major staples.

These prioritized crops included a large number of leafy vegetables and fruits, which are good sources of vitamins and minerals. In addition, cereals and pulses were also present in the panel, which are good sources of protein, energy, and micronutrients, and, thus, could be used for crop diversification and replacement.

Overall, the findings indicate that these prioritized forgotten food crops can be used to support the production of more climate-resilient and nutrient-enriched foods in sub-Saharan Africa.

As stated by the scientists, “our analysis, contextualized by subregions within sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, informs practitioners, researchers, and policymakers on the use of Africa’s forgotten food crops in the diversification of food supply for healthy diets in a changing climate. ”.

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