Lost Crops of Africa

lost crops of africa

“Like Asia and the Americas, the continent of Africa is blessed with a rich tropical flora. Many of the 50,000 or so plants that evolved within its forests and savannas ripen fruits to tempt the myriad wild creatures into spreading their seeds. Speaking generally, Africa has as many of these tasty morsels as tropical Asia or America.

This fact, however, is something one would never guess by looking in produce markets or college textbooks. Today, American and Asian species dominate tropical fruit production worldwide, including within Africa itself.

For this, there is good reason. Africa’s fruits have not, by and large, been brought up to their potential in terms of quality, production, and availability. Geographically speaking, few have moved beyond Africa’s shores; horticulturally speaking, most remain poorly known. Thus, the vast continental landmass lying between Mauritania and Mauritius contains a cornucopia of horticultural, nutritional, and rural-development jewels still waiting to be cut and polished.”

The three volumes can be consulted online at The National Academic Press. Previously: Lost crops of the Incas. Via Avantgardens.

Lost Crops of the Incas

lost crops of the incas

“At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Incas cultivated almost as many species of plants as the farmers of all Asia or Europe. On mountainsides up to four kilometers high along the spine of a whole continent and in climates varying from tropical to polar, they grew a wealth of roots, grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

Without money, iron, wheels, or work animals for plowing, the Indians terraced and irrigated and produced abundant food for fifteen million or more people—roughly as many as inhabit the highlands today.

Throughout the vast Inca Empire, sprawling from southern Colombia to central Chile—an area as great as that governed by Rome at its zenith—storehouses overflowed with grains and dried tubers. Because of the Inca’s productive agriculture and remarkable public organization, it was usual to have 3–7 years’ supply of food in storage.



But Pizarro and most of the later Spaniards who conquered Peru repressed the Indians, suppressed their traditions, and destroyed much of the intricate agricultural system. They considered the natives to be backward and uncreative. Both Crown and Church prized silver and souls—not plants.

Crops that had held honored positions in Indian society for thousands of years were deliberately replaced by European species (notably wheat, barley, carrots, and broad beans) that the conquerors demanded be grown. Forced into obscurity were at least a dozen native root crops, three grains, three legumes, and more than a dozen fruits.

Domesticated plants such as oca, maca, tarwi, nuñas, and lucuma have remained in the highlands during the almost 500 years since Pizarro’s conquest. Lacking a modern constituency, they have received little scientific respect, research, or commercial advancement. Yet they include some widely adaptable, extremely nutritious, and remarkably tasty foods.”

Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation, 1989. The book can be consulted online at The National Academic Press.

Insects as a Sustainable Feed Ingredient in Pig and Poultry Diets

“Use of insects as a sustainable protein rich feed ingredient in pig and poultry feed is technically feasible. Insects can be reared on low-grade bio-waste and can turn low-grade bio-waste into high quality proteins. Insects therefore can be a promising interesting link in the animal feed chain to fulfil the globally increased demand for protein.”

Insects as a sustainable feed ingredient in pig and poultry diets – a feasibility study” (PDF), Livestock Research, Wageningen University, October 2012. Previously: Mass Insect Farming / Edible Insects and Insecticides.

Ceramic Food Steamer With Central Chimney

Steaming food (vegetables as well as fish, meat and rice) is an interesting cooking method, mainly for two reasons: contrary to frying there is no need to use fat, and compared to both frying and boiling less nutrients are lost.

Ceramic Food Steamer With Central ChimneyAlmost all food steamers or steam cookers on the market work by virtue of many little holes, through which the steam rises from the boiling water below. The disadvantage of this method is that you lose the bouillon of the food, as well as the spices you might add.

When I visited my cousin last week in the French Dordogne, I stumbled upon a ceramic steamer in her kitchen. It was hand made by Laurent Merchant, an artisan living and working in the region. Ceramic food steamers are everything but new — they were already used in Neolithic China 6 to 7000 years ago* — but this one was different. Just like any other steam cooker, it is placed above a pot with boiling water. However, the steam enters through a central chimney rather than through dozens of little holes. The obvious advantage is that you don’t lose the juice, which greatly increases the potential uses of steaming.

Some commercially available steamers feature a condensation catchment, but in that case you can only use the bouillon separately, or add it to the food later. Furthermore, the ceramic steamer offers several additional advantages. Its design allows you to easily warm up earlier made dishes or leftovers following the same cooking method, because the device also serves as a perfect storage container and the steam prevents the food from drying out or sticking together. The steam cooker is also particularly suitable for defrosting food, and it is much easier to clean than conventional devices. Last but not least, it is made from sustainable materials and looks great, which cannot be said of most plastic food steamers.

Chinese ceramic steamer with central chimney photo by laurent merchantLaurent Merchant did not invent the device, which he dubbed “Le steamer”. Ceramic steamers with a central chimney originated in China, where they might have been in use for many centuries in the region around Shanghai. They resurfaced in California in the 1970s, where the artisan saw them for the first time. I could not find any information on their history, but in 2007 Merchant stumbled upon an authentic Chinese specimen which he could photograph (picture on the right — more pictures here).

Le steamer” is available in different sizes (from 1 to 4.5 litres) and can be ordered online. Laurent Merchant’s website is in French, but he will answer your questions in perfect English.

* Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 5, part 5: fermentations and food science, page 76-91

Saving Food From The Fridge

food storage

Korean artist Jihyun Ryou, a graduate of the Dutch Design Academy Eindhoven, translates traditional knowledge on food storage into contemporary design. She found the inspiration for her wall-mounted storage units while listening to the advice of her grandmother, a former apple grower, and other elderly. Her mission: storing food outside the refrigerator.

[Read more…]

Edible Insects and Insecticides

Edible wasps“Indeed, it is ironical that many international and non-governmental organisations try to save crops that contain no more than 14 percent protein by killing another food source (insects) that may contain up to 75 percent high-quality protein.”

Julieta Ramos-Elorduy in “Ecological implications of minilivestock“, red. Maurizio Paoletti, 2005.

See also: “Edible forest insects: humans bite back!!” (.pdf 4MB), Patrick Durst, Dennis Johnson, Robin Leslie, Kenichi Shono, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2010. Summary at the edible forest insects FAO-website. Previously: mass insect-farming.