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Staple crops are those which are most common in people's diets. Large expanses of land are dedicated to growing these foods, compared to the smaller areas planted in fruits and vegetables. In the third world, the staples are often a starch (grain or root crop) and a pulse (dried legume seed, beans). The starch gives energy and a feeling of fullness in the stomach, while the pulse provides protein.

These crops are so important to so many people that many have spread far beyond their centers of origin; many types of cassava, corn, rice, soybeans, and pigeon peas are grown around the world. Major research centers devote much of their resources to studying and improving these crops. Other crops, such as amaranth, quinoa, and tepary beans remain localized, but they hold great potential for thriving in other places with similar conditions. ECHO's focus is on these little-known plants and some varieties of the common crops which have special characteristics.