Improving the Plants that Africans Eat and Breeders Neglect

The UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy and the African Orphan Crops Consortium work to improve orphan crop quality and nutritional value

The innovative, partnering work of the African Plant Breeding Academy (based in the Seed Biotechnology Center, Dept. of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis) and the African Orphan Crops Consortium (based at the World Agroforestry Centre in Kenya) were recently highlighted in an article in The Economist.

Participants in the current Plant Breeding Academy.

Summary from The Economist:

Cassava, lablab beans, bitter gourds, and sickle sennas are standard food in parts of Africa. They are orphan crops — neglected by plant breeders.

The cereals which dominate human diets — rice, wheat, and maize — have had yields and nutritional values boosted by scientific breeding. Orphan crops have yet to undergo such a genetic revolution.

Poor childhood nutrition leads to stunting — inadequate bodily development, including brain development. Almost a third of Africa’s children are stunted and grow into adults unable to achieve their potential.

One way to reduce stunting is to improve the orphan crops that Africans eat. Such improvement is the purpose of two partnering projects. One is the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) based at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. The other is the African Plant Breeding Academy based at UC Davis. The AOCC’s task is to sequence the DNA of 101 neglected crops. The academy’s task is to disseminate that information to enable crop breeders around the continent, who participate in an advanced training course in Nairobi.

[Read the full article online, or as a PDF. This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition of “The Economist” under the headline “No crop left behind”]

From UC Davis:
The UC Davis Plant Breeding Academy is training 150 African plant breeders to integrate the information into their breeding programs with its advanced course based in Nairobi.

Learn more about the Plant Breeding Academy, http://pba.ucdavis.edu/ .

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