LOST CROPS of AFRICA
volume II Vegetables
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Program and staff costs for this study came from the U.S. Agency for International Development, specifically USAID’s Bureau for Africa with additional support from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Additional funding was received from the Presidents Committee of the National Academies. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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PANEL ON AFRICAN FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
NORMAN BORLAUG, Chair,
Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT), Mexico City, Mexico
School for Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Australia
JANE I. GUYER,
Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Millennium Institute, Arlington, Virginia, USA
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Development Policy Centre (retired), Ibadan, Nigeria
National Eye Institute (retired), Sun City, California, USA
Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, Washington, DC, USA
MARK DAFFORN, Study Director
NOEL D. VIETMEYER, Consulting Author and Scientific Editor
F. R. RUSKIN, Editor (through 1994)
ELIZABETH MOUZON, Senior Secretary (through 1994)
BRENT SIMPSON, MUCIA Intern (1994)
DON OSBORN, MUCIA Intern (1993)
MOLLY MUGNOLO, MUCIA Intern (1992)
When the idea for a project on native African food plants was first mooted, more than 1,000 people nominated their favorite grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, legumes, and other plants. All told, over 100 species were suggested for inclusion. Indeed, the numbers and the enthusiasm were so high that we decided to produce separate volumes on grains, vegetables, and fruits. We certainly are grateful to all who helped launch the program, but the following are the ones who especially provided the technical details and insights that created the chapters of this particular book.
DOSSOU FIRMIN ADJAHOSSOU, Faculte des Sciences Agronomiques; Universite Nationale du Benin, Cotonou, Benin
JAMES ALLEMANN, Agricultural Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa
PAUL O. ANEGBEH, ICRAF-IITA-IFAD Agroforestry Project, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Onne, Nigeria
D.J.M. ANNEROSE, Laboratoire de Physiologie de l’Adaptation a la Secheresse, Bambey, Senegal
BEATRICE ANYANGO, Department of Botany, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya
ASIAN VEGETABLE RESEARCH CENTER, Duluti, Arusha, Tanzania
KINGSLEY AYISI, Department of Plant Production, University of the North, Sovenga, South Africa
SUNDAY P. BAKO, Department of Biological Sciences, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Samaru, Nigeria
JULES BAYALA, INERA/DPF, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
JEAN-MARC BOFFA, ICRAF, Kampala, Uganda
EDOUARD G. BONKOUNGOU, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
REMIGIUS BUKENYA-ZIRABA, Department of Botany, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
CENTRE NATIONAL DE SEMENCES FORESTIERES, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
FABEON CHIGUMIRA, Horticultural Research Centre, Marondera, Zimbabwe
FELIX D. DAKORA, Botany Department, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
OLANREWAJU A. DENTON, National Horticultural Research Institute, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria
IDRISSA DICKO, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
EMMANUEL V. DOKU, Department of Crop Science, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
VERA DOKU, Department of Crop Science, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
ROGER ELLIS, Agricultural Research Council, Lynn East, South Africa
KLAUS FLEISSNER, Mahene Research Station, Ombalantu, Namibia
JEAN-MARIE FONDOUN, Institut de la Recherche Agricole pour le Développement, Yaoundé, Cameroon
FRANCIS N. GACHATHI, Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya
BARBARA GEMMILL, University of Nairobi and Environment Liaison Center International, Nairobi, Kenya
DONALD E. GREENBERG, Tulimara (Pvt) Ltd, Chispite, Harare, Zimbabwe
INSTITUT SENEGALAIS DE RECHERCHES AGRICOLES, Parc Forestier de Hann, Dakar, Senegal
MARIANA JOOSTE, Agricultural Research Council, Lynn East, South Africa
SAMUEL K. KARIKARI, Botswana College of Agriculture, Gaborone, Botswana
DAVID O. LADIPO, CENRAD, Ibadan, Nigeria
ELISSAVETA O. LOUTCHANSKA, Agostinho Neto University, Luanda, Angola
PETER LOVETT, Legon, Accra, Ghana
STANLEY MATEKE, Veld Products Research and Development, Gaborone, Botswana
MABOKO S MPOSI, Faculty of Agriculture, University of the North, Sovenga, South Africa
MOUHOUSSINE NACRO Laboratoire de Chemie Organique appliquee, Ouagadougou University, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
OUSSEYNOU NDOYE, CIFOR Regional Office, Yaounde, Cameroon
N. QUAT NG, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria
AMADOU NIANG coordinateur de SLWA/ICRAF Bamako, Mali
ALBERT NIKIEMA, CNSF, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
JONATHON C. OKAFOR, Tree Crops and Tropical Ecology Consultants, Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria
O.O. OLUFAJO, Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Samaru, Zaria, Kaduna State, Nigeria
ADENIKE OLUFOLAJI, National Horticultural Research Institute, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria
MEL OLUOCH, AVRDC Africa Regional Program, Duluti, Arusha, Tanzania
MARY O.A. ONYANGO, Maseno University College, Maseno, Kenya
DOV PASTERNAK, ICRISAT Sahelian Center, Niamey, Niger
NAT & PATRICIA QUANSAH, Morondava Centre, Morondava, Madagascar
JACK REEVES, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria
SIDY SANOGO, Programme Ressources Forestières Sikasso, Mali
HABY SANOU, Programme Ressources Forestières Sotuba, Mali
PIETER SCHMIDT, Tropenbos Cameroon Programme, Kribi, Cameroon
FRANK J. SENKONDO, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania
ABU SESAY, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Swaziland, Kwaluseni, Swaziland
KALLUNDE SIBUGA, Department of Crop Science and Production, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Morogoro, Tanzania
DAOUDA SIDIBE, Programme Ressources Forestières Sotuba, Bamako, Mali
MODIBO M. SIDIBE, Institut d’economie Rurale, Bamako, Mali
B.B. SINGH, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Kano Station, Nigeria
MARIENNE SPREETH, ARC/LNR, Roodeplaat, South Africa
FRANK W. TAYLOR, Veld Products Consultancies, Gaborone, Botswana
ZAC TCHOUNDJEU, ICRAF-Cameroon, Yaoundé, Cameroon
JONATHAN TIMBERLAKE, Biodiversity Foundation for Africa, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
OTLOGETSWE TOTOLO, University of Botswana, Gaborone, Botswana
HARRY C. VAN DEN BURG, Umlimi Lokhonile Seeds, Malkerns, Swaziland
SOGNON RAYMOND VODOUHÈ, IPGRI Cotonou, Benin
GEBRE YNTISO, Addis Ababa University
HAROUNA YOSSI, Programme Ressources Forestières, Sikasso, Mali
SAYED AZAM-ALI, Tropical Crops Research Unit, University of Nottingham, Loughborough, Nottinghamshire, UK
PATRICIA BARNES-MCCONNELL, International Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA
FRANK BEGEMANN, Centre for Agricultural Documentation and Information (ZADI), Bonn, Germany
DOUG BOLAND, CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products, Kingston, ACT, Australia
STEVEN BRANDT, archaeologist, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA
RICARDO BRESSANI, Centro de Ciencia y Tecnologia de Alimentos, Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, Guatemala
BOB BRINSMEAD, Farming Systems Institute, Department of Primary Industries, Warwick, Queensland, Australia
JOHN P. CHERRY, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, USA
PABLO E. COLUCCI, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada
SAMUEL D. COTNER, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA
STAFFORD M.A. CROSSMAN, Agricultural Experiment Station, University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, USA
MARIE-CHRISTINE DAUNAY, Genetique et Amelioration des Fruits et Legumes, INRA, Montfavet, France
SØREN DØYGAARD, Tuborgvej, Hellerup, Denmark
HAN VAN DIJK, Department of Environmental Science, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
JEFF EHLERS, Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside, California, USA
J. MICHAEL FAY, Expeditions Council, National Geographic Society, Washington DC, USA
ROB FLETCHER, School of Land and Food, The University of Queensland Gatton College, Queensland, Australia
GEOFF FOLKARD, Department of Engineering, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
EUNICE FOSTER, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA
PETER GRIFFEE, Forestry Department, FAO, Rome, Italy
GERARD J.H. GRUBBEN, PROTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
JANE I. GUYER, Program of African Studies, Northwestern University, Evanston Illinois, USA
JOHN HALL, School of Agricultural and Forest Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Wales, UK
M. HAROUN HALLACK, Inwood, West Virginia, USA
DAVID HARRIS, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
NAZMUL HAQ, International Centre for Underutilised Crops, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
JOHN HOLLAND, NSW Agriculture, Tamworth Centre for Crop Improvement, Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia
HÉLÈNE JOLY, CIRAD, Montpellier, France
CHARLES S. KAUFFMAN, The Accokeek Foundation, Accokeek, Maryland, USA
WARWICK KERR, Genetica I Biociencias, Univ. Federal de Uberlandia, Uberlandia Minas Gerais, Brazil
SARAH LAIRD, New York, New York, USA
DAVID LAWLOR, Institute of Arable Crops Research, Rothamsted Experimental Station, Harpenden, Herts. UK
ROGER LEAKEY, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
SYLVIA LEE-HUANG, Department of Biochemistry, New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York, USA
RICHARD N. LESTER, Birmingham University Botanic Gardens Winterbourne, England, UK
MIKE LUCY, Farming Systems Institute, Department of Primary Industries, Pittsworth, Queensland, Australia
BRIGITTE L. MAASS, Inst. for Crop & Animal Production in the Tropics, Georg-August-University Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany
RUTH MALLESON, Dunsmore, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, UK
FRANKLIN W. MARTIN, Lehigh Acres, Florida, USA
J. TERRENCE MCCABE, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
LISA MCDONALD, James Cook University, Townsville Queensland, Australia
LAURA C. MERRICK, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA
DONALD OSBORN, Peace Corps, Washington, DC, USA
MANUEL C. PALADA, Agricultural Experiment Station, University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix, Virgin Islands, USA
CHRISTEL PALMBERG-LERCHE, Forestry Department, FAO, Rome, Italy
BRUCE C. PENGELLY, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Indooroopilly, Queensland, Australia
HUGH POPENOE, Center for Tropical Agriculture, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA
MICHAEL POWELL, Department of Biology, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas, USA
MARTIN PRICE, ECHO, North Fort Myers, Florida, USA
M. LERON ROBBINS, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Calhoun, Louisiana, USA
MANUEL RUIZ PEREZ, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
JOHN SCHEURING, Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, Basel, Switzerland
RUDY SCHIPPERS, Chatham, Kent, UK
ARNIE SCHLISSEL, Beer Sheva, Israel
KATE SCHRECKENBERG, Forest Policy and Environment Group, Overseas Development Institute, London, UK
MASAYOSHI SHIGETA, Center for African Area Studies, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
BRENT SIMPSON, Center for Global Change and Earth Observations, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA
MARTEN SØRENSEN, Department of Botany, Royal Agricultural and Veterinary University; Rolighedsvej, Denmark
RICHARD STOREY, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
DUNCAN THOMAS, College of Forestry, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA
L.J.G. VAN DER MAESEN. Laboratory for Plant Taxonomy, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
RUTH WELCH, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
JAMES WYATT, Department of Plant Sciences and Landscape Systems, The University of Tennessee, Jackson, Tennessee, USA
This is the second volume in a series highlighting untapped promise to be found among Africa’s traditional food plants. It has been created because within that huge mass of land below the Sahara there exist several thousand indigenous plant species, already selected for food production, that still fall outside the ambit of modern research and economic development. Some are staffs of life for thousands of communities in desperate need of help, so the lack of research attention to them is a disgrace of our times.
The food plants in question are not without merit. Humanity’s oldest, they have been feeding people since the beginning. Many thrive in the harsh conditions that many Africans confront daily. And many are exceptionally nutritious. Yet none are receiving adequate scientific or institutional support, despite their significance where the needs for food, nutrition, and rural development are perhaps greater than anywhere else.
We call such neglected foods the “lost crops of Africa.” And this abundance of half-forgotten edibles includes hundreds of vegetables. By highlighting a selection of these nutritious gems hidden in plain sight, we hope to stimulate Africa-wide and perhaps worldwide actions that boost their productivity and production, to the advantage of millions now existing at the mercy of fate. Although the project’s ultimate aim is to raise nutritional levels, diversify agriculture, and create economic opportunities where all three are most needed, it would be wrong to conclude that Africa’s vegetables lack relevance elsewhere. On the contrary, many may offer untold global potential.
It should be understood that the vegetables themselves are in some places very well known. It is mainly to scientists, policymakers, and the world at large that they remain “lost.” Such outsiders include of course many in Europe, North America, and elsewhere who influence African research priorities, directly or indirectly from afar. But the outsiders also include science establishments and policymakers within African nations. In this regard it is noteworthy that many sub-Saharan countries allocate their meager agricultural research funds almost exclusively to major international crops that were introduced to Africa in the past.
The current text is designed to reach out to leaders who can direct increased consideration toward the ancestral food plants. In addition, we hope to touch technical experts and open their eyes to the importance of working on these indigenous crops. In the main, though, we hope to inspire
focus on these crops from non-governmental organizations, willing citizens, students looking for research-opportunities, and other enterprising members of the public within the 30-some countries where these vegetables are found in the ground.
In structuring the chapters and selecting the words, we’ve borne this broad audience in mind. This is why the text has a different feel and form from most scientific publications. Here, we’re trying to penetrate an almost universal veil of ignorance by exposing the potential inherent in a collection of overlooked food plants. The information, we trust, will stimulate activities that will provide each plant a chance to achieve the promise still awaiting elaboration in its genes and in the germplasm occupying prime space across Africa.
This book’s beginnings go back to a questionnaire that asked Africans and Africa specialists to identify indigenous food plants with unrealized potential. The response was overwhelming; a thousand respondents replied, naming more than 300 personal favorites. Among the nominations were more than 50 vegetables deemed to have unrealized promise of a significant character. From those we chose the 18 highlighted here.1
Each description of the selected species begins with an overview aimed at capturing the attention of policymakers, philanthropists, planters, and others having a general interest. The text then proceeds with increasing levels of detail and technical content, aimed at stimulating professional interest among nutritionists, horticulturists, geneticists, and others trained in the various specialties capable of moving the plants solidly into the mainstream of modern endeavor.
These descriptions were initially compiled from literature, queries by mail (and, more recently, email), electronic sources, telephone conversations, and experience gathered through years of dealing with little-known tropical crops. Next we emailed drafts (accompanied by a request for editorial input) to several hundred researchers, most of whom had experience in Africa and more than half of whom were actually there. The response was passionate, and once the new wealth of contributions was incorporated, each redrafted chapter was forwarded to a handful of people (or in some cases many more) who by then we’d learned knew special aspects of that particular plant such as its cultivation, nutritional content, usages, or other relevant information.
With these appraisals in hand, each chapter was yet again reworked to incorporate this round of improvements, including many points not in the prior literature. Following repeated entreaties for clarification of specific points and many rewrites and additional reviews, the results became the crop descriptions making up the body of this volume. While there is no way to
achieve full accuracy dealing with such little-known plants, we believe the presentations are balanced and informative.
The book’s introductory statements were then composed, based largely on wisdom mined from the reviewers’ insights. The combined result was evaluated by a National Research Council panel with deep experience in Africa’s agriculture and food problems (see list above). These individuals assessed the relative balance of the manuscript and, in broad terms, evaluated the overall inherent potential of indigenous African vegetables as detailed in the Introduction. The final draft was then reviewed in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies’ Report Review Committee (see below).
These exhaustive processes led to the present volume. It is important to understand that this is neither a textbook nor a technical survey of African botany or agriculture. The writing puts it somewhere between a strictly scientific account and a popular review. As mentioned, we’ve crafted the message to interest not just specialists but also administrators, entrepreneurs, and researchers unaware of these particular vegetables or their promise.
As already indicated, this is the second in a series. The preceding volume described notable cereal grains found amidst the vast plains, savannas, and deserts below the Sahara. Published in 1996, it covered:
African Rice (Oryza glabberima)
Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana)
Fonio (Digitaria exilis and D. iburua)
Pearl Millet (Pennisetum spp.)
Sorghum (Sorghum glaucum)
Tef (Eragrostis tef)
Other cultivated grains (Brachiaria, Triticum, Paspalum, etc.)
Wild grains (Echinochloa, Paspalum, etc.).
A third book accompanies this one. Volume III focuses on African fruits. Its first half highlights 10 cultivated delights:
Balanites (Balanites aegyptiaca)
Baobab (Adansonia digitata)
Butterfruit (Dacryodes edulis)
Carissa (Carissa species)
Horned Melon (Cucumis metaliferus)
Kei Apple (Dovyalis caffra)
Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)
Melon (Cucumis melo)
Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)
The second half covers 14 wild fruits:
Aizen (Boscia species)
Chocolate Berries (Vitex species)
Custard Apples (Annona species)
Ebony (Diospyros species)
Gingerbread Plums (Parinari and kindred genera)
Gumvines (Landolphia and Saba species)
Icacina (Icacina species)
Imbe (Garcinia livingstonii)
Medlars (Vangueria species)
Monkey Oranges (Strychnos species)
Star Apples (Chrysophyllum and related genera)
Sugarplums (Uapaca species)
Sweet Detar (Detarium senegalense)
Tree Grapes (Lannea species)
The Introduction is laid out so that readers can quickly zero in on plants that may be particularly useful to them. The overall qualities of each vegetable are outlined in brief paragraphs. These are followed by discussions on overcoming malnutrition, boosting food security, fostering rural development, and sustainable landcare, highlighting the potential contribution of each individual species to these development goals. Their overall promise is ranked in a single table (see Table 1) that also shows their general location in Africa.
In the present volume we have abandoned our longstanding habit of appending such things as addresses of research contacts, sources of seed, and technical papers that provide more detail. These days, the Internet is the best place to find such information, which advances too rapidly for print to keep pace. Further, much of the literature on these plants is obscure and of little help to those trying to advance these species; not only does a static list quickly go stale, but much time could be wasted acquiring these sources only to find the same information in a matter of minutes on-line. Our experience is also that printed contact lists quickly become obsolete, misdirecting communications to those who have moved and burdening those no longer engaged, while not representing those newly involved. Circumspection for personal information also pertains to acquiring germplasm, which should only be requested through appropriate channels due to the world’s heightened phytosanitary, cultural, and legal concerns.
Although Internet communication is far from satisfactory in much of Africa, advancement during the course of this study has already been astounding, and the ability of those even in the most difficult circumstances
to efficiently access information is impressive. The future of these plants is in collaborative networks of interested workers in Africa and elsewhere freely sharing information and experiences.2 For such ends, the dynamic possibilities offered by electronically organizing, parsing, and presenting information provide much greater flexibility than the fixed text of the printed page. Much core information on vegetables discussed in this volume is rapidly, or already, appearing online. This new arena allows all to participate and all to benefit.
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies’ Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process.
We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Edward S. Ayensu, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Ghana
Ricardo Bressani C., Universidad del Valle de Guatemala
Michael T. Clegg, University of California, Irvine
Nevin S. Scrimshaw, International Nutrition Foundation, USA
Henry L. Shands, USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation
M.S. Swaminathan, Centre for Research on Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development, India
Elly Sabiiti, Makerere University, Uganda
An example of such collaboration is embodied by a network undertaken by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI): Guarino, L., ed. 1997. Traditional African Vegetables. Promoting the conservation and use of underutilized and neglected crops. 16. Proceedings of the IPGRI International Workshop on Genetic Resources of Traditional Vegetables in Africa: Conservation and Use, August 29-31, 1995, ICRAF-HQ, Nairobi. Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, Gatersleben/IPGRI, Rome (online via ipgri.cgiar.org/publications). On a broader scale, prota.org (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa), a joint African/European nonprofit foundation, intends to eventually document 7000 species useful in Africa (both indigenous and introduced), while other Internet sites dealing with these plants, such as ecoport.org, are driven through user input and reciprocal sharing of knowledge.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Calvin O. Qualset, University of California, Davis. Appointed by the National Academies, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authors and the institution.
Program and staff costs for all these studies came from the U.S. Agency for International Development, specifically USAID’s Bureau for Africa with additional support from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. We are especially grateful to Tim Resch, Michael McGahuey, Ray Meyer, and Laura Powers, all of USAID, for their confidence and perseverance during this project’s prolonged confinement and laborious delivery.
How to cite this report:
National Research Council. 2006. Lost Crops of Africa. Volume II: Vegetables. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
A NOTE ON TERMS
Throughout this book the word “Africa” always refers to “Africa south of the Sahara.”
The plants, too, are sub-Saharan. North African species, being biogenetically part of the Mediterranean-Near East complex, were generally ignored.
We refer to the vegetables by common names rather than scientific ones. This simplifies communication in a book written more for generalists than for specialists.
We have preferred to use English common names where possible, except where they imply that a plant pertains only to one locale or ethnic group (e.g., Hausa potato). An exception is Bambara bean, known as such across the continent. In other cases, however, we have not hesitated to suggest uncommon but more alluring names. A harsh sounding or off-putting name can be a body blow to the advancement of an otherwise excellent vegetable.
The local-name lists that appear in the chapters are not by any means exhaustive. They are included only as a rough help in pinpointing the plant being described.
Unless noted otherwise, nutritional values given are presented on a dry-weight basis to eliminate moisture differences between samples. We depend on reported values, many of which are old or incomplete or otherwise questionable, and which may never have been independently verified. Each species deserves modern verification.
We frequently refer to vitamin A or equivalents—notably when discussing the nutrition of each vegetable. It should be understood, however, that vitamin A is formed in our bodies. Within the plant, it occurs as provitamin A carotenoids. Modern protocols for measuring the levels have rarely been applied to these plants.
Because this book will be employed in regions beyond Africa, we have in most cases used internationally recognizable names when referring to non-African crops. Examples include peanut for groundnut, papaya for pawpaw and cassava rather than its more common African name, manioc.
A WORD TO READERS
Everyone who works with plants assumes responsibilities. Some species described in this report—especially those which are less than domesticated—may be pestiferous or invasive outside their natural environs, and thus require due caution and on-going scientific assessment after introduction. Unless professionally inspected, they may also carry along unseen pests and diseases (particularly small insects and microbes such as virus or bacteria) whose populations might explode catastrophically in new locations. In addition, plant genes and germplasm are subject worldwide to both tangible- and intellectual-property laws; these legal rights hold especially true for food plants in which others—whether farmers or financiers—have already invested thought and labor or capital. For these reasons, most nations have official protocols based on intergovernmental conventions governing the safe and legitimate transfer of plant materials. These protect both people and the environment, and are rarely any obstacle to helpful activities. In the best interest of all parties, it is crucial that the requirements of such protocols be strictly followed.
The great thing about the edibles highlighted here is that they can be used for probing the heart of Africa’s most basic problems—hunger, malnutrition, rural poverty, environmental destruction. Collectively, they have the power to pump rich new nutrition into what is now an anemic food supply, sputtering rural economy, uncertain public health, and less-than sustainable farm operations.
Some people argue that these problems are but symptoms arising from deeper evils associated with low levels of economic productivity. Yet on that score too, edibles highlighted in the following pages can help. In theory at least, they can expand opportunities and contribute to the resuscitation of prosperity across rural Africa—locales where human life has in recent decades suffered hardest.
Another thing, no less great, is the fact that these vegetables offer ways by which people throughout the continent can work together for a common good. Fundamental, too, is cooperation between those who know tradition and those who know technology. Non-Governmental Organizations might make all the difference in building those bridges. The NGO proliferation is a change from the past, and for the development of the indigenous vegetables such organizations seem ideally poised to straddle voids between science and society, the past and the future, Francophone and Anglophone locales, and technologists the world around. At various levels, small active groups could coordinate, sponsor, manage, direct, or monitor the collection of plant materials, the documentation of traditions, the experimentation within laboratories, and so forth—all in relation to a vegetable of particular merit for the people and the environment they are dedicated to serve.
Indeed, individuals on more fortunate continents can also reach in and help improve the lives of Africans through the advancement of such promising resources as we describe. That notion may seem strange, but in furthering these particular food plants there’s scope for almost everyone—regardless of their level of influence, sphere of interest, or place on earth. This is not a novel notion: everywhere else, crops were developed both by outside influences and by local actions.
Of course experts in the relevant sciences can make vital advances in getting Africa back to its roots. In furthering any of these crops there’s a place for food technology, nutritional analysis, DNA probes, taxonomic identification, toxicological tests, agronomy, horticulture, pathology, vegetative propagation, selection, breeding, and more.
Specialists in such subjects could make a big difference in boosting the better use of native foodstuffs in a continent woefully deficient in such expertise. Every chapter elaborates technical tasks needing attention. And
with today’s communications individuals on one side of the world don’t have to leave home to champion a crop on the other. Electronic collaborations are increasingly common, and Africa’s under-exploited foods seem ideal vehicles for the world’s specialists to interact at many levels and in many ways with the world’s neediest farmers and lift their meager lives.
Beyond specialized scientific inputs, there’s much scope for ordinary folks to figure in the revitalization of rural Africa. Examples include:
Creating classroom materials and conducting children’s gardening projects;
Learning from local farmers how to master the complexities of growing each vegetable under the prevailing local conditions;
Reaching out to professionals in subjects such as food technology, nutrition, and horticulture to alert them to African vegetables’ needs;
Setting up websites (which might, for instance, highlight a vegetable or a region’s indigenous vegetables or perhaps the use of native produce to counter a problem such as malnutrition);
Fostering traditional vegetables in university courses, government extension, agricultural fairs, and operations run by foundations, foreign governments, development banks, and the rest;
Coordinating the collection of a lost crop’s seeds, locally, nationally, regionally, or perhaps internationally;
Translating documents such as this one into local languages or translating scientific papers to-and-from especially French;
Compiling country profiles of a lost crop, including regional recipes, beliefs, stories, management methods;
Running an email alert service to pass on the latest news relating to these resources as advances emerge worldwide;
Developing and adapting processing, storage, and transportation technologies;
Organizing web-links among institutions and individuals working on Africa’s “lost crops”
Establishing a cyber-exchange linking suppliers of African crop products to marketplaces around the world;
Developing new recipes incorporating them into different cuisines;
Searching colonial-era archives (those housed locally as well as others in Europe) for any previous investigations;
Recording these crops’ myriad vernacular names and uses; or
Providing a forum for swapping or selling seeds or other planting materials in an open, ethical exchange.
As we’ve said, we hope our words will stimulate such actions and lead to a wider, wiser, older, newer, and sounder sub-Saharan food supply. We think that, with commitment, the rewards to any reader stimulated into action could be legion. Involvement with any of these vegetables can touch the hearts of the humans most needing a hand up. For Africa, these species represent some of the best foods for the future. They also represent some of the best science projects. Although generally ignored by researchers, many of these crops are quite familiar in farms, gardens, markets and, in some cases, thousands of square kilometers of hillsides and savannas. Most are suited to the small plots, mixed cultivation, poor soils, local diets, and time-honored lifestyles of family or village. To have survived into modern times without “official” intellectual support indicates something about their inner strengths.
Taken all round, then, these lost crops constitute an obvious, though not necessarily simple, way by which Africa can reach back to the past and help fashion for itself a future.
Consulting Author and Scientific Editor
Native Potatoes (Solenostemon rotundifolius and Plectranthus esculentus)