The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center has a limited number
of copies of this book available for free, courtesy of Mark Dafforn, of
the National Academy of Science. Below is a (rather long) press release
about the book, as well as the URL for the press release on the Web.
Please request the Lost Crops of Africa from firstname.lastname@example.org (cc'd,
above). E-mail requests are encouraged!
Include your mailing address, preferably in block format, left-justified.
If you must, you can order by phone (301) 504-6422 or FAX (301) 504-6409.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 02 Aug 96 10:15:00 EST
From: Mark Dafforn <email@example.com>
Subject: Lost Crops of Africa
One description of Lost Crops can be found at:
Scenes of hunger, malnutrition, and even starvation draw attention
to Africa's food-production crisis on a seemingly regular basis. Many
studies have pointed to the threat of disasters still to come and have
called for urgent action. However, success has so far proven elusive and
some observers question whether the continent will ever be able to feed
its growing population. According to one estimate, Africa now needs 14
million tons more grain each year than it is producing. And with the
population growing annually at 3 percent and agricultural production
increasing by only 2 percent, the shortfall will reach 50 million tons by
the year 2000.
Now, a new report from the National Research Council describes an
approach that appears to be practical and highly promising. The report
highlights the fact that, despite its seemingly never-ending hunger, the
area from the Sahara to South Africa contains more than 2,000 native food
plants. The report calls these "the lost crops of Africa." The first in a
series on the lost crops, the just released volume deals solely with
The indigenous grains the report describes are known to certain
Africans but are "lost" in the sense that they are being neglected in the
fight against hunger. Some (such as fonio and tef) currently are used
only in limited areas, others (such as sorghum and pearl millet) are
widespread staples but yet have immense untapped potential.
Collectively, these underexploited food plants open a new window on
ways to help Africa overcome the looming crisis. The species are adapted,
resilient, and part of the African heritage. A number of them promise to
benefit other regions of the world, including the United States. Pearl
millet, for example, is giving excellent results in trials from Georgia
to Nebraska, and is identified as the most promising new crop for
The report was sponsored primarily by the Agency for International
Development and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It was written by a
distinguished panel chaired by Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace
Prize in 1970 for his efforts to help overcome hunger in South Asia. More
than 200 scientists, many of them from Africa, contributed technical
details and traditional knowledge.
The panel found that several of Africa's native cereals have
exceptional nutritional value. For example, tef tends to be rich in iron,
which is important for women and children, and fonio contains unusual
levels of the essential amino acids methionine and cystine. Generally
these are crops of the poorest countries, which means that their
improvement could directly benefit the people in greatest need.
Although the lost crops open up new windows of opportunity, their
potential has still to be realized. Much of the needed development can be
done by Africans themselves, but these are extremely neglected crops that
also deserve international research and support. Varieties need to be
collected and compared, growing requirements detailed, nutritional
qualities pinned down, and more. An especial need is the application of
food technology, especially to reduce the drudgery that now attends the
handling and processing of some of these traditional crops. Other
technical requirements include methods for increasing seed size and for
making the handling of small grains such as fonio and finger millet
The lost crops may not be in the textbooks, says the report, but they are
not unworthy. They constitute a heritage of African achievement that has
not been adequately taken advantage of.
A Collection of Quotes From Lost Crops of Africa. Volume 1: Grains.
"Among the 2,000 lost foods are more than 100 native grasses whose
seeds are (or have been) eaten. These can be found from Mauritania to
Madagascar. Only a handful are currently receiving concerted research and
development, and even those few are grossly underappreciated. Our goal is
to demonstrate the potential inherent in these overlooked traditional
cereals. Our hope is thereby to stimulate actions to increase the support
for, and use of, the best of them so as to increase food supplies,
improve nutrition, and raise economic conditions.
"It should be understood that most of the plants described are not
truly lost; indeed, a few are well known worldwide. It is to the
mainstream of international science and to people outside the rural
regions that they are "lost." It should also be understood that it is not
just for Africa that the grains hold promise. Several of Africa's
now-neglected cereals could become major contributors to the welfare of
nations around the world." [p xiii] ***
"Africa has more native cereals than any other continent. It has
its own species of rice, as well as finger millet, fonio, pearl millet,
sorghum, tef, guinea millet, and several dozen wild cereals whose grains
are eaten from time to time.
"This is a food heritage that has fed people for generation after
generation stretching back to the origins of mankind. It is also a local
legacy of genetic wealth upon which a sound food future might be built.
But, strangely, it has largely been bypassed in modern times." [p1] ***
"These "lost" plants have much to offer, and not just to Africa.
Indeed, they represent an exceptional cluster of cereal biodiversity with
particular promise for solving some of the greatest food-production
problems that will arise in the twenty-first century." [p15] ***
"Africa's native grains tend to tolerate extremes. They can thrive
where introduced grains produce inconsistently. Some (tef, for instance)
are adapted to cold; others (pearl millet, for example) to heat; at least
one sorghum to waterlogging; and many to drought. Moreover, most can grow
better than other cereals on relatively infertile soils. For thousands of
years they have yielded grain even where land preparation was minimal and
management poor. They combine well with other crops in mixed stands. Some
types mature rapidly. They tend to be nutritious. And at least one is
reputed to be better tasting than most of the world's well-known grains."
"Forged in the searing savannas and the Sahara, sorghum and pearl
millet in particular have the merits to become crops for the shifting and
uncertain conditions of an overpopulated "greenhouse age." [p6] ***
"[T]he grains of Africa retain much of the hardy, tolerant, self-
reliance of their wild savanna ancestors. For the future, such resilient
crops will be vital for extending cereal production onto the ever-more
marginal lands that will have to be pressed into service to feed the
several billion new arrivals. And if global warming occurs, they could
even become vital for keeping today's best arable lands in production."
"[The lost crops] are tools for helping build a new and stronger
food-production framework--one of inestimable value for the hungriest and
most destitute nations." [p7] ***
"Undoubtedly, as the world moves towards the time when its supplies
of food will be insufficient for its supplies of people, [sorghum] will
increasingly contribute to the happiness of the human race....Moreover,
if the much feared greenhouse effect warms up the world, sorghum could
become the crop of choice over large parts of the areas that are today
renowned as breadbaskets, rice lands, or corn belts." [p129] ***
"Of all major cereals, [finger millet] is one of the most
nutritious. Indeed, some varieties appear to have high levels of
methionine, an amino acid lacking in the diets of hundreds of millions of
the poor who live on starchy foods such as cassava and plantain.
Outsiders have long marveled at how people in Uganda and southern Sudan
could develop such strapping physiques and work as hard as they do on
just one meal a day. Finger millet seems to be the main reason." [p39]
"Over large areas of Africa people once obtained their basic
subsistence from wild grasses. In certain places the practice still
continues--especially in drought years. One survey records more than 60
grass species known to be sources of food grains. [Yet d]espite their
widespread use and notable value for saving lives during times of
distress, these wild cereals have been largely overlooked by both food
scientists and plant scientists." [p251]