Thursday, 02 August 2012

Tending to Orphan Crops of the World

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By Laura Dorle, Intern —

Groundnuts (also known as peanuts)

Last summer, CTI and the University of Minnesota (UMN) collaborated in growing six “Orphan Crops”: teff, finger millet, pearl millet, sorghum, grain amaranth, and groundnuts (peanuts).

Orphan crops are important food crops for subsistence farmers in many African as well as Asian and South American communities, as they have a strong cultural importance, and are often more nutritious and drought resistant than many of the large commodity crops.

Most agricultural research has focused on increasing the yields of commodity crops, such as wheat or corn. However, simply growing more food is not enough—not when between 15-50% of crops are lost after harvest, often due to post-harvest spoilage and inefficient processing methods. That is why CTI is committed to filling some of the gaps in the research by working on orphan crops, focusing on the post-harvest side of the value chain helping bring rural farmers out of subsistence living while improving their livelihoods.

Tiffanie Stone, a recent graduate of the University, was the student intern on the St. Paul Campus plot last year with the guidance of Agronomy Professor Paul Porter and other UMN and CTI colleagues.

This year, we are at it again, and I’ve joined the team, along with many of the great folks from CTI and UMN who originated the project. I’m Laura Dorle, student intern with the Orphan Crops project and a junior in the Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Program at the U. With a particular interest in food, agriculture, and international development, and a great desire to learn a lot more in those areas, this project was the perfect opportunity to do so.

The plot has been off to a good start thus far. The crops were planted in late May. In addition to the crops from last year, we also planted cowpeas, fonio, quinoa, mung beans, and Bambara groundnuts. Most have been doing very well, despite heavy rains early and intense heat. As usual, there is group of stealthy weeds that are thriving right along with them, and a lot of volunteers have been out there working hard to battle them, the leafhoppers, and Japanese beetles.

Orphan Crops Plot

When the crops begin to mature at the end of the summer through the fall, we’ll be able to use them to do field tests of CTI’s post-harvest equipment including prototypes of groundnut processing technologies that are being developed for a program in Malawi and Tanzania funded by the McKnight Foundation. We will also be testing CTI’s new pearl millet processing suite on additional grains.

I’m really excited to be working on this project. Be sure to stay tuned. More updates to come as the process continues! And we’ll be organizing some field visits starting in mid-August!

~Laura

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