African Orphan Crops: Their Significance and Prospects for Improvement
This special issue of the ATDF Journal is dedicated to the Orphan Crops of Africa. Although orphan crops are also known by different names (e.g. underutilized-, lost- or disadvantaged-crops), they all refer to a group of crops that are vital to the economy of developing countries due to their suitability to the agro-ecology and socio-economic conditions, but remain largely unimproved due to less attention has been given by the world scientific community. In order to boost food production in Africa emphasis should be given, not only to the major crops but also, to the orphan crops.
The topics covered in this issue range from germplam collection and conservation to the application of modern techniques (Bhattacharjee; Dominique & Daniel). Under ‘Comparative Genomics’ Patterson and colleagues showed the relationships of different orphan crops at a molecular level. The same group led the international group of scientists to complete the sequence of sorghum genome (Nature 457:551-556; 2009). Sorghum is also another important crop of Africa that was until recently considered as an orphan crop. But due to concerted efforts made by the national and international institutes, significant number of cultivars with desirable agronomic traits reached the farming community. Gedil presents how bioinformatic tools can be applied to the orphan crops. Recently, some orphan crops researchers got an opportunity to implement modern improvement techniques that have proved to be efficient in the improvement of major crops of the world. Among these, tissue culture (Dubois) and TILLING (Esfeld & Tadele) are discussed in detail. In addition, genome sequencing has been recently completed for orphan crops such as cassava and in progress for tef (Plaza et al.). Lambein and colleagues report their efforts to remove toxic substances from the two orphan crops that are extremely tolerant to drought but cause neuro-degenerations when consumed without proper processing.