Wednesday 5 September 2012

Great finds on the web (1) – Lost Crops of Africa

I posted recently about eating Eritrean food for the first time. During my search for the botanical name for the grain used to make this I stumbled across an amazing book available  on the net. Lost Crops of Africa is an incredible compendium about the various crops and plants from different African countries. It is packed full of botanical, cultural, socio-political, historical and nutritional detail it is a proverbial encyclopaedia of native African food stuffs,Volume 1 covers Grains – the staples of much of Africa, Volume 2 Vegetables and Volume 3 Fruits”.

Browsing it took me back to university days, studying Economic Botany as it was then called, looking at edible plants for the Green revolution and diversifying the gene pool of hybrid species productivity. Did you know for example that rice, commonly associated with Asia, is also a African plant?

A different species has been cultivated in West Africa for at least 1,500 years. Some West African countries have, since ancient times, been just as rice-oriented as any Asian one. For all that, however, almost no one else has ever heard of their species.

Asia's rice is so advanced, so productive, and so well known that its rustic relative has been relegated to obscurity even in Africa itself. Today, most of the rice cultivated in Africa is of the Asian species. In fact, the "great red rice of the hook of the Niger" is declining so rapidly in importance and area that in most locations it lingers only as a weed in fields of its foreign relative. Soon it may be gone.

This should not be allowed to happen. The rice of Africa (Oryza glaberrima ) has a long and noteworthy history. It was selected and established in West Africa centuries before any organized expeditions could have introduced its Asian cousin (Oryza sativa). It probably arose in the flood basin of the central Niger and prehistoric Africans carried it westward to Senegal, southward to the Guinea coast, and eastward as far as Lake Chad. In these new homes, diligent people developed it further.”

The book is produced by National Academies Press and is available in full text on the web.

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