1 Adopting African Orphan Crops to Enhance Food Security, Nutrition and Safety: Nutritious Crops Provide Diversified Foods to Improve Health and Wellness, Increase Farm Incomes and Sustain Safe Food

Organizers: NEPAD; World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF); BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute); World Wildlife Federation (WWF); Kenya; Nigeria; Ethiopia; Liberia FAO; Mars, Inc.

Abstract

Imagine the positive impacts on food security, nutrition, health, safety and farmers income if crop varieties that rural African families, especially women, grow were more nutritious, higher yielding, and resilient from climate change, drought and pests. An uncommon partnership of 15 government organizations, scientific, agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organizations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural organizations, devoted to improving the diets and livelihoods of the 600 million people who live in rural Sub-Saharan Africa believe that this vision will be a reality. The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC), founded in 2011, is the driver to generate the genomic resources for the selected crops. Approved by African Heads of State at the African Union Assembly and led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the AOCC is sequencing the genomes of 101 African food plants. The consortium’s African Plant Breeders Academy in Nairobi, Kenya will train 250 African scientists and technicians to sequence and breed the plants to be more nutritious, productive and resilient in the face of climate change. Significant progress has been made to demonstrate that plant research, training African scientists and providing free access to laboratories on these underutilized crops will yield an extraordinary food security return on investment that can be adapted elsewhere. In fact, AOCC has already created a spin-off center to research 40 East African orphan crops. African scientists are learning the skills to develop technologies to deploy genetics to end stunting, hunger and chronic malnutrition through sound and sustainable methods for the African continent.

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Main themes/issues discussed

An uncommon partnership of 15 government organizations, scientific, agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organizations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural organizations, devoted to improving the diets and livelihoods of the 600 million people who live in rural Sub-Saharan Africa believe that this vision will be a reality.  

The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC), is the driver to generate the genomic resources for the selected crops. Approved by African Heads of State at the African Union Assembly and led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the AOCC is sequencing the genomes of 101 African food plants.  The consortium’s African Plant Breeders Academy in Nairobi, Kenya will train 250 African scientists and technicians to sequence and breed the plants to be more nutritious, productive and resilient in the face of climate change.  

Summary of key points

H.E. Amira Gornass, Ambassador from Sudan: Opened the session stating the importance of Orphan Crops and the FAO’s commitment to this. 

Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, CEO, NEPAD: Highlighted the idea that in order to tackle hunger we need to change the way we do business. The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC), led by NEPAD, is about leap frogging farmers forward using technology. Investment in human capacity is fundamental to creating a successful society. 

Tony Simons, Director General ICFAF: Showcased the need for targeted interventions and reinforced that we need to get rid of our bias for indigenous crops. Agriculture and nutrition messaging is under reported. We need to see diversification of African orphan crops as an opportunity rather than a hindrance

Rita Mumm, Executive Director African Plant Breeding Academy: Discussed how DNA sequence information can translate into large benefits for the African people. Teaching local communities about plant breeding and genomics can result in huge benefits for their communities. The goal of the African Pant breeding academy is to equip and empower scientists to improve crop varieties all over Africa. Professional networks have formed and new communities of practice have been developed through this academy, resulting in new research funding.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Mars, Incorporated, Chief Agricultural Scientist: Reviewed the current state of stunting in children in Africa and the burden of malnutrition. The notion of nutrition is a human right not a privilege and the difference between good nutrition and high calorie intake is an important note. Howard-Yana Shapiro also reviewed some of the surprising and exciting collaborations that have come from this project.  

Ren Wang, Deputy Director General, FAO: Rein forced that the FAO is committed to transforming our food systems. The FAO admires and endorses the mission of this innovative consortium. The FAO can help advocate the concept and vision of the AOCC, helping orphan crops go above and beyond what they have already achieved

Key outcomes/take away messages

AOCC’s goal is to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 101 traditional African food crops to improve their nutrient content. This will provide long lasting solutions for Africa’s nutritional security. Partnerships, idea sharing and teaching are an important component of this. AOCC hopes to have 5 key outcomes: 

quality seed for farmers 

improving yields 

better nutrition for families 

better value and remuneration 

new value chains, markets and products