The following are the complete list of the most important indigenous crops that are indigenous to Africa along with their common names and botanical names and where they originated from.
But first, let me try to explain briefly about the indigenous crops of Africa. During the colonial era, the process of discarding indigenous crops gained further momentum, as the official focus shifted to those familiar crops of mercantile interest, such as cane, chocolate, coffee, cotton, and other durable, transportable, and valuable crops of that sort.
Indeed, during those times subsistence crops were almost entirely neglected in organized agriculture, while valuable exportable cash crops were cultured, harvested, graded, and protected against rodents, insects, and decay with exceptional efficiency and dispatch.
And an end result of these historical trends was that most of Africa’s food these days comes from a mere 20 or so species, almost all of foreign extraction.
With that being pointed out, now let us return to the complete list of indigenous crops of Africa below:
Common Name Cereals Botanical Name
Bulrush millet ———————————– Pennisetum typhoides
Guinea corn ———————————– Sorghum bicolor
Finger millet ———————————– Eleusine coracana
Rice ———————————– Oryza glaberrima
Hungary rice ———————————– Digitaria exillis
Cowpea ——————————— Vigna unguiculata
Pigeon pea ——————————— Cajanus cajan
Oil palm —————————– Elaeis guineensis
Niger seeds —————————– Guizotia abyssinica
Castor —————————– Ricinus communis
Bambara groundnut —————————– Voandzeia
Shea butter —————————— Butyrospermum
White guinea yam —————————– Dioscorea rotundata
Yellow guinea yam —————————— Dioscorea cayenensis
Read Also: The History and Spread of Cultivated Crops
Cotton —————————— Gossypium herbaceum
Kenaf —————————— Hibiscus cannabinus
Bow-string hemp —————————— Sansevieria spp.
Kapok —————————— Pentandra var. caribea
liberica —————————— Coffea arabica, Coffea
Kolanuts Gbanja Kola ————————— Cola nitida
Abata Kola ————————— Cola acuminata
Water melon ——————————– Citrullus lanatus
Like grains and fruits, Africa’s ancient vegetables were vulnerable to the sweep of these events. Long ago, hundreds of leaves, roots, tubers, corms, rhizomes, bulbs, seeds, buds, shoots, stems, pods, or flowers were eaten.
Yet across Africa today the main vegetables are crops such as sweet potato, cooking banana (plantain), cassava, peanut, common bean, peppers, eggplant, and cucumber.
Countries in the elevated central regions like Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Kenya grow potato. Banana dominates Rwanda, and Ethiopia also relies on chickpea and lentil.
Meanwhile, South Africa records its leading vegetable crops as potato, tomato, green mealies (maize), sweet corn, onion, pumpkin, carrot, cabbage, lettuce, and beetroot.
When compared with the ancient stock of modern crops, these traditional African food crops remaining outside the fold of science have not been rejected because of any inherent inferiority. Therefore, it is time to open minds to the power and promise of this indigenous edible wealth.
The Complete List of Indigenous Crops of Africa
Every day, plant species across the globe are disappearing. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that approximately 75 percent of the Earth’s plant genetic resources are now extinct, and another third of plant biodiversity is expected to disappear by 2050. Up to 100,000 plant varieties are currently endangered worldwide.
Unfortunately, most investments in agriculture are for crops such as wheat, rice, and maize, rather than for more nutritious foods or indigenous crops—and this focus has had devastating consequences. Global obesity rates have doubled over the last 30 years, increasing the risk of diet-related illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease in industrialized and developing countries alike.
Many indigenous crops are environmentally sustainable, improve food security, help prevent malnutrition, and increase farmer incomes. Initiatives like the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC)’s Vegetable Genetic Resources System and Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste are working to catalog indigenous species of fruits and vegetables all over the world.
Food Tank has compiled a list of indigenous fruits, vegetables, and grains from many regions that are nutritious, delicious, and contribute to sustainable livelihoods in rural communities across the globe.
1. Fonio: This versatile and gluten-free species of millet from the savannahs of West Africa is nutritious, fast-growing, and suitable to dry conditions. Some ancient belief systems even claim the universe was created through a grain of fonio.
2. Baobab: This enormous African tree has fruits containing a dry pulp that is nutritious, flavorful, and useful as a thickening agent in food processing.
3. Moringa: Native to parts of Africa and South Asia, this versatile and fast-growing tree provides pods, leaves, and seeds that are packed with nutrients. Moringa is drought-resistant, grows well in sub-tropical regions, and even can be used to help purify water.
4. Mongongo: This widely distributed southern African tree has been popular for thousands of years for its nutritious nut, and is now being recognized commercially for its effectiveness as a skin moisturizer.
5. Teff: Highly adaptable and nutritious, teff is an ancient grass native to East Africa that famously withstands extreme climates and is a popular part of cuisines in Africa and India. Teff, which is high in calcium and gluten-free, can be eaten whole or ground into flour.
6. Amaranth: This versatile plant, which grows quickly in the humid lowlands of Africa, is a leafy vegetable typically consumed in places like Togo, Liberia, Guinea, Benin, and Sierra Leone. The plant thrives in hot weather and is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
7. Cowpea: Originating in central Africa, this legume is one of the region’s oldest crops. It is also drought resistant and can thrive in poor soil conditions. The leaves of the plant are also consumed as a vegetable.
8. Spider Plant: This green leafy vegetable, also known as “African Cabbage,” can flourish throughout Africa. It is high in protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and other micronutrients.
9. African Eggplant: The plant is an important indigenous crop because it is high yielding, drought-resistant, stores well, and can be grown in poor soil. The leaves of the eggplant are also consumed, and it can represent an important income source for some families.
10. Argan: This tree, native to the southern coast of Morocco, produces fruit containing a valuable hard nut. This nut contains seeds that produce a deep yellow oil with an unmistakable, rich flavor. In Morocco, there are women’s cooperatives dedicated to producing argan oil.