A ‘superfood’ from Ethiopia that can feed the world?

Ethiopia superfood
A woman extracting the edible part of an enset with a traditional tool in Ethiopia. Photo taken from Wikipedia

Scientists in a new study revealed that the crop from the plant enset (ensete ventricosumsay), a staple in Africa's Ethiopia, could be a new superfood with the potential to feed over 100 million people -- saving their lives amid the global warming induced climate change, reports BBC.

The crop, largely unknown outside Ethiopia, is a close relative of banana and is often dubbed as "false banana" or "Ethiopian banana".

Ethiopians use the plant's starchy rhizome and bulbs to produce porridge and a type of flatbread called "kocho".

Usually the plants, which can grow up to 39 ft, are cultivated in small plantations, but the research, published in Environmental Research Letters, suggests that enset may be grown over larger expanse of land in Africa.

Superfood from Ethiopia
Enset plants can grow up to 39 ft and are cultivated in small plantations. Photo taken from Wikipedia

"This is a crop that can play a really important role in addressing food security and sustainable development," Dr Wendawek Abebe of Hawassa University in Ethiopia, told BBC.

The enset plant looks quite similar to banana plants. The fruit of the plant also looks somewhat similar to banana but is inedible as those are full of seeds. The edible parts of the plant are its starchy stems, bulbs and roots that can be fermented and used to make porridge and bread, according to the BBC report.

Around 20 million people in Ethiopia rely on enset for food. It, however, is not cultivated anywhere else. Wild relatives are found as far as South Africa, but those are not considered edible.

It, nonetheless, suggests that the plant can tolerate a much larger range.

Ethiopia superfood
Stem of an enset plant is starchy and is fermented and used to make porridge and bread. Photo taken from Wikipedia

Scientists have conducted agricultural surveys and modelling work to predict the cultivation potentials of enset and revealed that it could feed more than 100 million people and enhance food security in Ethiopia and across much of Africa over the next four decades.  

Enset may be planted as a buffer crop during lean times to boost food security as it can be planted and harvested any time of the year, Dr James Borrell of the Royal Botanic Gardens, who participated in the study, told BBC.

"It's got some really unusual traits that make it absolutely unique as a crop," he said. "You plant it at any time, you harvest it at any time and it's perennial. That's why they call it the tree against hunger."

Ethiopia is a major agricultural hub in Africa, and is home to coffee and many other crops.

Ethiopian Superfood
The fruit of enset plant also looks somewhat similar to banana but is inedible as those are full of seeds. Photo taken from internet/ International Tropical Fruits Network

It is predicted that climate change will have serious impact on the yields and distribution of staple food crops across Africa and beyond, which led to a growing interest in seeking new plants to feed the world in the next decades, the BBC report read.

We are highly reliant on a handful of staple crops, with nearly half of all the calories we consume coming from rice, wheat and maize.

"We need to diversify the plants we use globally as a species because all our eggs are in a very small basket at the moment," said Dr Borrell.


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