Crops from the past might be the solution for the future
Currently, four crop types comprise two-thirds of the worlds food supply. These are wheat, maize, rice, and soybean. When one looks at different countries and/or continents one sees a big difference in the main staple foods people consume.
What do people eat
In Africa, the staple diet is made up of cereals (46%), roots and tubers (20%), and animal products (7%.)
In Western Europe, it is quite different: Animal products (33%), cereals (26%), and roots and tubers (4%.) Europeans are in general somehow healthy but as they have turned away from natural foods, taking on the American lifestyle, health is in decline.
The fact that we eat so many animals is quite disturbing.
To feed all these animals, trees are cut down to provide meadows and agricultural land to grow the crops that feed these animals. Not such a good idea. It is a fact that all the crops which are used to feed animals could actually feed 4 billion people. If we stop or eat considerably less meat, millions on millions of people worldwide would benefit from the produce gained from the land not dedicated to feeding managed forage animals (cattle, sheep, pigs, etc.) This is definitely food for thought.
And of course, we have to consider the American staple diet, which seems to be even worse. Mainly man-made foods (highly processed foods), high on sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats. Having a modern health care system obviously does not make the population healthier, rather the contrary. Putting these 2 facts together it is a miracle we are still alive.
A global research center in Malaysia
Malaysian scientist might have found the answer to a big problem. They are working in the headquarters of global research center Crops For the Future (CFF). Investigating crops which were popular in the past and were cultivated for centuries but sadly have been abandoned and forgotten. The Moringa trees are a good example. Its many health benefits are newly discovered. Then there are the Bambara groundnuts and the Kedondong berry.
These are just 3 examples of crops which are not well known outside the places where they are grown. The 4 main crops, maize, rice, wheat, and soybean are preferred leaving out the possibility to benefit from natures gift to the human race. Let us not forget another aspect. The 4 main crops are heavily sprayed and genetically modified and because of the pesticide, herbicide and GMO nature, pose a danger to our health.
7000 forgotten crops
Prof Azam-Ali says that 7000 crops which were farmed for thousands of years are now being ignored in favor of the famous 4. With so many “forgotten” or infrequently used plants as a food source, one does not have to wonder why so many people have nothing to eat in this world.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization tells us that the food sector is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. High time to find some greener substitutes. It is estimated the population on our planet will balloon to over 10 billion people by the year 2050. What will be their food source and will they be able to grow this crop. The agricultural output will have to increase by an additional 50%. Considering that so much is wasted in the industrial/rich countries, the time is more than ripe to seriously look for alternatives.
Forgotten crops are more climate change resilient
Prof Azam-Ali tells us that forgotten crops are more climate-resilient in addition to being more nutritious. The fact is that we (humans) should eat a variety of foods. Varying your diet and consuming a wide variety of different foods is much better for your health. The news about these forgotten crops is so interesting. In one of the big domes of the CFF, food technologist Tan Xin Lin is experimenting with new ingredients trying to make a combination which is appealing and good tasting. Substitutes for wheat flour in the form of moringa leaves can be used to bake a cake which is low in gluten but much higher in nutrients. She is making new recipe combinations which should appeal locally as well as to international taste buds.
Worldwide, the middle class is drawn to fast food as well as processed foods. This will have long-lasting effects on overall health rates. Children who grow up on hamburgers and fries suffer obesity at a young age. Soft drinks also play a big part in making us sick.
Quinoa becomes known
In colonial times the Bambara groundnut was planted and harvested by the locals. It is a protein-rich legume and was eaten in sub-Saharan Africa and certain parts of southeast Asia. At the time, women who cultivated the Bambara groundnut were punished for doing so. The colonial powers did not see a market for it because it lacked oil. Nowadays the CFF is very optimistic as the Bambara groundnut is one of their favorite crops. This is similar to the rise of the awareness and consumption of quinoa 30 years ago. CFF thinks that investors will see the potential of betting on this new crop.
Can crops adapt to climate change?
Scientists are experimenting with these new plants taking climate change very much into account. These crops should be able to thrive in warmer climates. CFF is the worlds first research center dedicated solely to underutilized crops. There are other companies which focus their attention on agricultural diversity, like Bioversity International. They operate together with partners in low-income countries. They try to improve agriculture and tree biodiversity for the people hoping for better nutrition, more production, and helping them to adapt to climate change. Crop Trust, Slow Food, and Icrisat are some other companies with a similar focus.
Save our agricultural inheritance to provide food for the future
If we do not revive these forgotten crops, used by our ancestors for 10,000 years, we might lose the knowledge of how to plant, harvest, and use them within a single generation. They might present the solution for the future when the famous 4, maize, rice, soybeans, and wheat could struggle to survive the imminent effects of climate change. I am happy there are so many people trying to provide food for coming generations, healthy food and locally grown.
Source: BBC Future 22 August 2018 article by Preeti Jha
Photo Source: Pixabay
Perhaps you like to read my post on Fast Food