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production of fiber and biomass, they have the potential to revitalize okra breeding and okra as a global resource.

These tall types should be obtained and put into worldwide trials. Some trials should involve side-by-side comparisons with kenaf.


Bioabsorbents Pith, as we’ve said, comprises a major part of the stem. In kenaf it is proving suitable for animal bedding, oil-absorbents, chicken litter, kitty litter, and potting soil. Okra pith samples should be gathered and compared with kenaf’s. For these purposes, the two crops are less in competition than in cohoots. They can undoubtedly be marketed together and perhaps even mixed, thereby building a bigger, broader, and safer base of supply. Demand for bioabsorbents like these is likely to soar, both for the needs of environmental health and public health around the globe.


Horticultural Development Although there has been considerable selection and breeding of okra, it has emphasized the production of immature pods. The rest of the fantastic genetic diversity within this species is basically untapped, or even unexplored. That situation should be changed, and fast. Germplasm needs to be gathered up not only in Africa but also in Asia and other regions that know the crop.

With this genetic variability in hand, the way should be open for improving the compositional value of the crop for the various separate products. Varieties could be bred, for instance, for fiber, biomass, oil, protein, mucilage (type and yield), color, and ornamental use. Breeding studies could also be expanded to include improving yields, cultivation conditions, nutritional value, and nutraceuticals.

Okra flowers are structured for insect-pollination (bees, wasps, flies, and beetles, and perhaps even occasional birds), but self-pollination usually occurs and both hand-pollination and seed handling are straightforward. Controlled breeding is thus not difficult, although success in bringing out some characteristics may require very large populations and very careful evaluation.


Toxicity Checks Although both okra tofu and the protein-rich residue left after oil extraction offer promising foods and feeds, there is a possible drawback. Okra seeds, like cottonseeds, purportedly contain gossypol or a gossypol-like compound.13 All doubts will have to be removed before okraseed can be employed as a protein source. Strangely, should gossypol be present in commercial amounts it might possibly be used for the long-sought male contraceptive (see sidebar).

In at least some okraseed varieties the oil contains small quantities of cyclopropenoid fatty acids. These unstable compounds have strong

13

Gossypol occurs also in cottonseed oil, from which it is extracted with butanol.



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