Traditionally, Africans made use of edible fruits and leaves of plant species growing wild as weeds. These edible plants were well-known to the rural communities and were often collected from the wild or planted in home gardens as intercrops with staples. For some indigenous fruits and vegetables, wild collection is still practiced, especially in southern Africa and parts of eastern and western Africa. Recent surveys reveal that indigenous fruits and vegetables were consumed by the rural populations for nutrition and food security. The hidden potential of indigenous fruits and vegetables needs to be exploited to play a pivotal role in solving malnutrition, food insecurity and poverty challenges facing Africa.
(Keynote paper, finals of the ‘Women in Science’ competition)Horticultural biodiversity which was once an integral part of African diets should have been part of the celebrations of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity. However, with the introduction of exotic temperate crops, indigenous green vegetables lost popularity in Africa and are regarded mostly as ‘weeds’ or ‘poor man’s food’. With over 50% of the African population living below the poverty line, resulting in malnutrition and poor health, there is need for a paradigm shift in food production patterns to harness the nutrition and economic potential of indigenous vegetables and fruits. Agrobiodiversity has a crucial part to play in revolutionalising the horticultural sector for food security, nutrition, income and sustainable development in Africa. This article outlines strategies and recommendations that could be used to raise the status of agrobiodiversity in the continent.Article taken from the 2011 CTA/FARA publication ‘Agricultural Innovations for Sustainable Development’ Volume 3, Issue 2.
Agricultural productivity in most sub-Saharan countries is 2-3 times lower than the world average and the production gap between developing and developed countries is widening. This situation is reflected in the production of most horticultural commodities in which per capita productivity has declined. Today’s farmers produce less per hectare than their grandparents. When an increase in production is reported, a notable increase in land under production is the cause and not increased productivity per unit area. Major factors contributing to this decline are poor soils, decreasing land resources, minimal access to irrigation (only 4% of the land used for agricultural production is under irrigation) and drought which affects 33% of crops produced for food slightly and another 25% severely. What mix of knowledge and technologies is required to expand production and increase productivity in Africa that can contribute to improving food, nutrition and income security? How can economies of scale be created?
Horticulture worldwide has been dominated by a product oriented approach, i.e. producers do their best to create attractive and maybe delicious products and then try to sell them. In a local context, this approach has worked well for the last 20 millennia; however, in the present day situation, where most retail corporations source their products globally it will not suffice. Due to the evolution of the world wide food web, supply now exceeds the demand in most cases. In order to compete in this market, producers and suppliers must be able to differentiate products from average suppliers. The distinctions developed must be perceived as valuable by the customers. Therefore it all starts with knowing what customers expect and appreciate both now and in the future.
Three different cultivars of drought, salt and boron tolerant Opuntia ficus indica (Cactus pear) were grown in poor-quality agricultural drainage sediment high in salt, boron and selenium that originated from the Westside San Joaquin Valley, US. Nutritional contents were then measured in these Cactus pear fruit, and vegetative cladodes compared to the same cultivars grown adjacent on a low saline sandy loam soil. After harvesting fruit and cladodes, the mineral nutrients status were analyzed. The results demonstrated positive nutritional changes in both cladodes and fruit within the Cactus pear cultivars when grown on agricultural drainage sediment compared to those grown on normal soil. Under these conditions Cactus pear plants contained nutraceutical qualities and represent a useful anticarcinogenic selenium-enriched chemotherapeutic food crop for providing advanced dietary seleno-pharmacology in order to help fight human diseases. (Thanks Agro.biodiv.se, 18/6/2012)