Orphan Crops


Orphan crops are crops with little significance at the global scale but play vital role in the food and nutrition security in the developing world. The term ‘orphan’ refers to the neglect of the crop by the international research community. Similar to major crops such as maize, wheat and rice, orphan crops belong to cereals, legumes, vegetables, root and tuber and fruits. Orphan crops possess desirable agronomical, nutritional and health‐related properties, which makes them favourable crops by both farmers and consumers. The ability of orphan crops to grow under extreme environmental conditions indicates their prospect in the changing climate. However, due to little scientific improvement, orphan crops produce inferior yield in terms of both the quantity and quality. The recent efforts by some researchers and institutions at the national and global levels have advanced the improvement of few orphan crops.

Key Concepts

  • Orphan crops play vital role in the food security in the developing world.
  • Orphan crops provide nutritional security for resource‐poor consumers.
  • Orphan crops are resilient to diverse environmental constraints.
  • The improvement of orphan crops has been given little attention at the national and global levels.
  • Scientific improvement of orphan crops is necessary to enhance food security in the developing world.

Keywords: abandoned crops; crops of future; disadvantaged crops; neglected crops; niche crops; orphan crops; understudied crops; underutilised crops

Figure 1. The proportion of the top 10 crops in terms of area cultivated in 2017. (a) Africa, (b) Asia, (c) North America, (d) South America, (e) Europe and (f) Oceania. Adapted from FAOSTAT ().
Figure 2. The productivities of both orphan and major crops are low in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Grain yield of five (a) orphan crops in Africa; (b) major crops in Africa; (c) major crops in North America and (d) major crops in Europe. The values are for the year 2017. Adapted from FAOSTAT ().


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Tadele, Zerihun(May 2020) Orphan Crops. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028901]