Scientists say Ethiopia’s classic plant enset is a new superfood in the face of climate change and can be a lifesaver.
According to new research, crops like bananas have the potential to feed more than 100 million people in a warming world.
This plant is little known except in Ethiopia, which is used to make porridge and bread.
Studies suggest that crops can be grown in a much wider range in Africa.
“This is a crop that can play a very important role in tackling food security and sustainable development,” said Dr. Wendaweck Abebe of Hawassa University in Hawaasa, Ethiopia.
Ensete or “fake bananas” are closely related to bananas, but are consumed only in parts of Ethiopia.
The fruits of plants like bananas are inedible, but they can be used to ferment starchy stems and roots to make porridge and bread.
Enset is Ethiopia’s staple food, dependent on about 20 million people for food, but not cultivated elsewhere, but wild relatives (not considered edible) grow south to South Africa. And this plant has a much wider range.
Scientists have used agricultural research and modeling work to predict the range of potential ensets for the next 40 years. They found that the crop could feed more than 100 million people and enhance food security in other African countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
Dr. James Borrell, a researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, said planting as a lean-time buffer crop could enhance food security.
“It has some really unusual features that make it absolutely unique as a crop,” he said. “You plant it at any time, harvest it at any time, and it’s a perennial. That’s why they call it a tree against hunger.”
Ethiopia is the main crop-growing center in Africa, where coffee and many other crops are grown.
Climate change is projected to have a profound impact on the yield and distribution of staple food crops inside and outside Africa.
Given the reliance on several staple food crops, there is growing interest in finding new plants to feed the world. Almost half of the calories we eat come from three types: rice, wheat and corn.
“Currently, all eggs are in very small baskets, so we need to diversify the plants we use worldwide as seeds,” says Dr. Borrell.
The study is published at Environmental research letter.
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