pp 1–18 | Cite as

Orphan crops: their importance and the urgency of improvement

  • Zerihun TadeleEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Orphan Crops


Main conclusion

Due to significant contributions of orphan crops in the economy of the developing world, scientific studies need to be promoted on these little researched but vital crops of smallholder farmers and consumers.


Food security is the main challenge in the developing world, particularly in the least developed countries. Orphan crops play a vital role in the food security and livelihood of resource-poor farmers and consumers in these countries. Like major crops, there are members of all food types—cereals, legumes, vegetables and root and tuber crops, that are considered to be orphan crops. Despite their huge importance for present and future agriculture, orphan crops have generally received little attention by the global scientific community. Due to this, they produce inferior yields in terms of both quantity and quality. The major bottlenecks affecting the productivity of these crops are little or no selection of improved genetic traits, extreme environmental conditions and unfavorable policy. However, some orphan crops have recently received the attention of the global and national scientific community where advanced research and development initiatives have been launched. These initiatives which implement a variety of genetic and genomic tools targeted major constraints affecting productivity and/or nutritional quality of orphan crops. In this paper, some of these initiatives are briefly described. Here, I provide key suggestions to relevant stakeholders regarding improvement of orphan crops. Concerted efforts are urgently needed to advance the research and development of both the major and orphan crops so that food security will be achieved and ultimately the livelihood of the population will be improved.


Crops for the future Disadvantaged crops Food security Minor crops Orphan crops Understudied crops Underutilized crops 



African Orphan Crops Consortium


World Vegetable Center


Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council


Beijing Genomics Institute


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation


Collaborative Crop Research Program, McKnight Foundation


Cluster of Excellence in Plant Science


Crops for Future


Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research


International Center for Tropical Agriculture


International Maize and Improvement Center


International Potato Center


Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated 9


Economic Commission for Africa


Food and Agriculture Organization


Genotyping by sequencing


Genome wide association study


International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas


World Agroforestry Centre


International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics


International Fund for Agricultural Development


International Institute of Tropical Agriculture


Least Developed Countries


New Partnership for Africa’s Development


National Research Council of the USA


β-N-Oxalyl-L-α, β-diaminopropanoic acid


Public–private partnership


Sustainable Agriculture for Sub-Saharan Africa


Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture


Targeting induced local lesions in genomes



The Research in my lab is financially supported by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and University of Bern.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

I declare that there is no financial interest or conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Plant SciencesUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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