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Experts say these crops if grown widely, could help feed the hungry. (Clockwise from left: Jose Hernandez, Provided by ARS Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory; Frederick R. McConnaughey / Photo Researchers, Inc.; AJ / IRRI / Corbis; Pallava Bagla / Corbis; Scimat / Photo Researchers, Inc.)

Five Game-Changing Crops That Could Help Feed the Hungry

Food security experts say these crops, if grown more widely, could help feed the hungry

Fonio (Digitaria exilis)
A type of millet prized in West Africa—the Dogon people of Mali say the universe sprang from a fonio seed—it thrives in poor soil, is rich in amino acid nutrients and provides a tasty base for bread, porridge, pasta and beer.
What’s Next? Develop a more efficient way to harvest the tiny seeds.

Fortified Cassava (Manihot esculenta)
These starchy roots, the source of tapioca, are the primary food for 250 million Africans. Scientists have endowed the traditional plant with new genes that pack the equivalent of
a daily multivitamin into each serving.
Next: Field trials in Nigeria, where the added nutrients could save up to 30,000 lives a year.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)
Known throughout the tropics, this relative of
the fig tree bears large fruit rich in carbohydrates, fiber and minerals. It requires less land, water and labor to cultivate than other high-starch crops like maize or rice.
Next: Distributing new fast-maturing cultivars to needy farmers.

Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan)
This protein-rich legume grows well in much of India, China, sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Its deep roots help it resist droughts while improving soil fertility and reducing erosion.
Next: Integrating hardier pigeon pea hybrids to diversify maize-based agricultural systems.

Golden rice
By inserting daffodil genes into a common rice, scientists created a strain enriched with beta carotene, a source of vitamin A. Health experts say millions of malnourished children worldwide could avoid blindness and death from vitamin A deficiency if they ate this genetically modified grain.
Next: Cross-breeding experimental golden strains with native rice varieties in needy regions of Southeast Asia.

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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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