Our Work

Orphan Crops


Resources for Researchers is a database intended as a source for researchers, policymakers, students, and the public to become better informed of major recent analysis on global food security. Included are different perspectives provided through a range of academic journals, government research, think tanks, popular press and opinion pieces, and scholarly reviews. This information has been collected from open sources and includes works that have been produced within the last decade. We have noted gated articles. We will regularly update the database as new works are published. Other topics will be added in the future, such as climate change and forestry. This is a collaborative project. If you think we’ve missed a major piece of work, please let us know.

Orphan Crops

An orphan crop is a plant species that is grown as a food crop, livestock grain, or any other crop that is deemed agriculturally important to a specific region. Typically an orphan crop is a significant source of food security in very poor regions.

Because the global demand for these crops is limited, research on their productivity, protection from pests and disease, and other types of research pales in comparison to major staple crops. Orphan crop research is also neglected because their economic importance is considered low by private funders. Since the main sources of funding for plant genomics and bioinformatics stem from the United States and Europe, thorough research is more often devoted to crops that are specific to these regions and which have the potential for the greatest financial return. These crops also compete against each other among international publicly funded organizations that have seen their budgets under pressure in recent years. Bioinformatics are needed to understand the development of high-quality genome sequences, which are similar for any crop, as well as to understand the evolution of the genome and the aspects of biology. Bioinformatics can lead to the development of new crop varieties, the discovery of genes with agriculturally important traits, and the identification of sources of genetic variation.

Explore the different categories below:

Overview and Examples of Orphan Crops

Science: Improving Orphan Crops

Policy and Markets

Organizations Working on Orphan Crops

Overview and Examples of Orphan Crops

A Call to Remember the Forgotten Crops

Fred Pearce; Thomson Reuters; December 2013

In an interview with Monkombu Swaminathan, World Food Prize laureate, he explains orphan crops and their importance to feed the world.

Orphan Crops of the Developing World

Compatible Technology International and University of Minnesota

CTI provides an overview of the orphan crops they work on and discusses the importance of each.

Radical Eating: What Will Be the Next Quinoa? That’s Up to You

Virginia Gewin; Slate; April 2014

Humans could eat 7,000 plant species, but we only rely on approximately 50 crops. Gewin explains the necessity to fund research on neglected crops.

Focus on Underutilized Crops

New Agriculturist; November 2004

Series of articles on the advantages and ways to promote orphan crops.

Ten Hearty Orphan Crops

Brad Wittwer; Pacific Standard; July 2010

A look at 10 orphan crops and their benefits.

Increasing Homogeneity in Global Food Supplies and the Implications for Food Security

Colin K. Khourya, Anne D. Bjorkman, Hannes Dempewolf, Julian Ramirez-Villegasa, Luigi Guarino, Andy Jarvisa, Loren H. Rieseberg, and Paul C. Struik; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; January 2014

The study assesses the trends over the past 50 years in the richness, abundance, and composition of crop species in national food supplies worldwide.

How Enset can Save Ethiopia

Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Work; Addis Fortune; July 2013

The agricultural, environmental, and nutritional benefits of enset

Move Over Quinoa, Ethiopia’s Teff Poised to be the Next Super Grain

Claire Provost and Elissa Jobson; The Guardian; January 2014

This article examines how a national crop could become the next big super grain.

Orphan Crops Could Turn into Winners

Merle Faminow and Kevin Tiessen; International Development Research Center, Canada; July 2010

This article discusses how Canada’s success at becoming a major pulse crop producer (edible seeds from legumes, such as peas, beans, chickpeas) could be used to help developing countries become major pulse crop producers as well.

International Year of Quinoa

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); 2013

The UN declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, a crop that could be an alternative source of food for developing countries.

10 Ancient Grains to Watch: From Kamut to Quinoa

Maggie Hennessy; Food Navigator USA; November 2013

Another example of underutilized grains.

Neglected Crops: 1492 From a Different Perspective

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); 1994

While this book is 20 years old, it took an in-depth analysis of 65 crops that were socially, agriculturally, or biologically important over the last 500 years. It aims to identify possible re-introduction of some species.

Science: Improving Orphan Crops

Biotechnology in the Developing World: A Case for Increased Investments in Orphan Crops

Rosamond L. Naylor, Walter P. Falcon, Robert M. Goodman, Molly J. Jahn, Theresa Sengooba, Hailu Tefera, and Rebecca J. Nelson; Food Policy; February 2004

This article summarizes how modern biotechnology can be utilized to improve orphan crops in developing countries.

New Approaches to Plant Breeding of Orphan Crops in Africa

Zerihun Tadele; Proceedings of an International Conference, University of Bern; September 2007

This international conference brought together scientists from both major and orphan crops to discuss how modern biotechnology could improve orphan crops.

Bringing High-Throughput Techniques to Orphan Crop of Africa: Highlights from the Tef Tilling Project

Korinna Esfeld, Sonia Plaza, and Zerihun Tadele; Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern; August 2009

It covers highlights and future prospects of the Tef Biotechnology Project, which uses modern techniques to improve the traditional crop.

Bioinformatics in the Orphan Crops

Ian Armstead, Lin Huang, Adriana Ravagnani, Paul Robson, and Helen Ougham; Special Issue: Plant Genomics; May 2009

This paper examines the challenges and opportunities of bioinformatics to improve orphan crops.

Millet Improvement Through Regeneration and Transformation

Sonia Plaza-Wuthrich and Zerihun Tadele; Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Review; April 2012

Millet could become an important crop due to its beneficial characteristics. This study discusses how millet could be improved and transformed from an orphan crop to a major food source.

Role of Orphan Crops in Enhancing and Diversifying Food Production in Africa

Zerihun Tadele; Institute of Plant Sciences, University of Bern; 2010

The next Green Revolution in Africa needs to include neglected crops through the implementation of modern biotechnology. It discusses the role and limitations of orphan crops.

Underutilized Plant Species: The Role of Biotechnology

Ian K. Dawson and Hannah Jaenicke; The International Centre for Underutilised Crops; 2006

A look at good examples, limitation, and risks of biotechnology to improve orphan crops.

Linking Ecosystem and Genetic Approaches for Sustainable Minor Crops Production Intensification in Ivory Coast

Bi I.A. Zoro; The Agricultural Research for Development/Dimension of the European Research Area; October 2011

A powerpoint on how ecosystem and genetic approaches can improve production of oilseed cucurbits in Ivory Coast.

Decoding 'Orphan Crop' Genomes Could Save Millions of Lives in Africa

John Vidal and Mark Tran; The Guardian; June 2013

While others are using modern biotechnology to improve orphan crops, an agriculture director at Mars hopes to sequence genetic data of 100 traditional crops and make it publicly available.

Can Genomics Boost Productivity of Orphan Crops?

Rajeev K. Varshney, Jean-Marcel Ribaut, Edward S. Buckler, Roberto Tuberosa, J Antoni Rafalski, and Peter Langridge; Nature Biotechnology; December 2012

Look at potential and challenges of genomics-assisted breeding can enhance orphan crop yields.

New African Academy to Nurture Nutritious “Orphan” Crops

Maina Waruru; Thomas Reuters Foundation; December 2013

African Plant Breeding Academy aims to boost production of orphan crops to better manage extreme weather conditions.

Policy and Markets

A Holistic Approach to Enhance the Use of Neglected and Underutilized Species: The Case of Andean Grains in Bolivia and Peru

Stefano Padulosi, Karen Amaya, Matthias Jager, Elisabetta Gotor, Wilfredo Rojas, and Roberto Valdivia; Sustainability; March 2014

A decade-long project examined a holistic and innovative value chain framework to enhance neglected crop R&D and strengthen conservation.

Investing in Orphan Crops to Improve Food and Livelihood Securities of Uganda's Rural Poor

Ronald Naluwairo; Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment; 2011

This policy research paper analyzes Uganda’s agricultural-related policies and their support for the production and development of orphan crops.

Creating Markets for Orphan Crops

Bioversity International; 2013

A new initiative encourages farmers to grow neglected crops by providing market outlets for their harvests.

Collective Action and Marketing of Underutilized Plant Species: The Case of Minor Millets in Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu, India

Guillaume P. Gruere, Latha Nagarajan, and E.D.I Oliver King; Collective Action and Property Rights; October 2007

This paper evaluates the success of marketing for millet in India and argues that collective action and group initiative is necessary for successful commercialization of orphan crops.

African Leafy Vegetables in Kenya

Bioversity International; 2013

This 10-year project helped farmers produce and become aware of the values of African leafy vegetables to eliminate malnutrition, poverty, and hunger.

Developing the Potential of Underutilized Fruits through the Linkage of Farmers to the Market- a Case of Kokum Marketing in the Western Ghats of India

Froukje Kruijssen and Sudha Mysore; Bioversity International; March 2007

Highlights the importance of markets and policies to link growers of orphan crops to markets more efficiently.

Promoting Value Chains of Neglected and Underutilized Species: Guidelines and Good Practices

Margret Will; Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species; Bioversity International; 2008

Guidelines and good practices for value chain development of orphan crops.

Underutilized Plant Species: What Are They?

Stefano Padulosi and Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon; Leisa Magazine; March 2004

Description of orphan crops and recommendations of how to successfully promote these crops

Knowledge Levels and Assumed Impact of Alternative Uses of Crops on Income and Poverty Levels in Kwara State, Nigeria

Joe Nmadu and Ezekiel Adeyemi; Dept. of Agricultural Economics and Extension Tech., Federal University of Tech., Minna, Nigeria; 2012

This study investigated the knowledge levels of orphan crops among farmers. They found farmers are generally aware, but are not involved in production.

Underexploited Tropical Plants with Promising Economic Value: The Last 30 Years

Noel Vietmeyer; Trees for Life Journal; 2008

Dr. Vietmeyer gives a personal overview of his experience working with underexploited plants and their potential benefits for society.

Organizations Working on Orphan Crops

Improving Nutrition Through African Orphan Crops

Mars, Inc. and African Orphan Crops Consortium

African Orphan Crops Consortium’s goal is the sequence 100 traditional African crops. Take a look at the list of the crops.

Bioversity International

A research-for-development organization that provides scientific evidence on the role that biodiversity can play in food security and for smallholder farmers.

Global Crop Diversity Trust

An independent international organization working to guarantee the conservation of crop diversity

CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers And Bananas

An agricultural research-for-development center focusing on sweet potatoes, cassava, bananas, potatoes, yams, and other roots to improve food security and nutrition.

Crops for the Future

Dedicated to the development of underutilized crops, increase income for producers, and enhance nutrition.