tier" cereals that are the buffers against famine. It is they that have the greatest amount of untapped potential. Among them, Africa's native grains predominate. Sorghum and pearl millet, for instance, are the fifth and sixth most important cereals in the world, and finger millet is probably the eighth.2 Generally, they are crops of the poorest countries, which means that their improvement could directly benefit the people in greatest need.

By comparison with modern wheat, rice, and maize—respectively from the Middle East, Asia, and Central America—the grains of Africa still retain much of the hardy, tolerant self-reliance of their wild savanna ancestors. For the future, such resilient crops will be vital for extending cereal production onto the ever-more-marginal lands that will have to be pressed into service to feed the several billion new arrivals. And if global warming occurs, they could even become vital for keeping today's best arable lands in production.

Forged in the searing savannas and the Sahara, sorghum and pearl millet in particular have the merits to become crops for the shifting and uncertain conditions of an overpopulated "greenhouse age."


In the last few centuries in Africa, the local grains have been superseded by foreign cereals introduced and promoted by outsiders such as missionaries, colonial powers, or researchers. In recent decades, the production of native grains has plunged even further as millions of tons of imports—particularly wheat and rice—have been sold at subsidized prices.

Despite its long history, Africa's cereal production is now low. The Green Revolution that transformed the tropics and subtropics, from the Indian subcontinent to South America, passed Africa by. In fact, per-capita production of cereals has decreased nearly 20 percent (present annual output being only about 50 million tons or a mere 11


Barley, native to the Middle East, is the fourth and rye is the seventh.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement