Current thinking asks that farmers look at the possibilities created by planting a more diverse range of crops by including indigenous crop lines.
Africa’s indigenous crops have been largely neglected for decades, with exotic crops like maize being the dominant crops.
According to Reliefweb, over 29 million people still suffered hunger in July this year after the general crop failure of the 2015/’16 season across the southern sub-region. Food prices sky-rocketed as subsistence farmers were without income or, more seriously, food for their families’ tables.
It is well-established that monocropping leaves farmers vulnerable to seasonal variability and cyclical dips in international markets. For the small-scale farmer particularly, it is worth looking at alternative crop plants and low input cultivation systems. Diversity in food crops translates to diversity in the diet, which is key to healthy nutrition.
Farmers don’t necessarily have to change their whole crop programme, but it’s worth looking into adding these crops to you usual schedule.
There is a wide variety of edible leaves, fruit, roots and seed available for the small-scale African farmer. Plants like amaranth, cowpea and millet are adapted to regional environmental and climatic conditions and will tolerate dryland conditions.
Planting a variety of these types of plants, especially pulses, boosts nutrient levels in rapidly deteriorating African soils. According to a recent report by the United Nations, soils in sub-Saharan Africa are the worst affected by soil deterioration through agriculture globally, with about 25% of cropland showing signs of decreasing or unstable productivity.
Another advantage is that these crops offer an alternative income for cash-strapped farmers.
There are emerging, local market opportunities for the sale of indigenous crops. One example of this is the World Food Programme in Zambia’s Maano initiative where farmers can find buyers for indigenous pulses (cowpea, bambara beans and pigeon peas) on a digital platform. The project has come through a successful pilot season, and organisers are recruiting partners and funders to extend its reach countrywide.
In Kenya, the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research has piloted a project that links farmers to schools with feeding programmes. Through this platform, farmers have a reliable market for their nutritious, indigenous, green leafy vegetables. The project’s success has initiated plans that will see growth to other parts of Kenya and to surrounding countries.