Knowledge for Development

A study of perennial staple crops


Date: 26/09/2012


The Overstory, journal of Agroforestry Net (, based in Hawaii, US), features an extended excerpt of the in-depth review of perennial staple crops conducted by Eric Toensmeier of Perennial staple crops include grains, pulses (dry beans), nuts, dry pods, starchy fruits, oilseeds, high-protein leaves, and some more exotic products like starch-filled trunks, sugary palm saps, and aerial tubers. These offer the unique possibility of crops grown for basic human food that can simultaneously sequester carbon, stabilize slopes, and build soils as part of no-till perennial agricultural systems. Such production models approach the carbon sequestering capacity of natural forest, because they can mimic the structure of a forest most closely. Perennial staple crop systems are resilient in the face of climate change effects better than most annuals. These food forests can be long-lived, no-till, and low-maintenance. They do however have harvesting and processing challenges – for example most peach palm varieties have tall, very spiny trunks that must be climbed for harvest. The review describes perennial crop candidates by climate types, details the barriers to their adoption, compares their carbohydrate and protein yields with annual crops, and identifies the members of each perennial plant family (Palm, legume, mulberry, banana, yam along with hardy nuts and grasses).

(The Overstory #248, 13/8/2012)

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