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Forgotten food crops in sub-Saharan Africa for healthy diets in a changing climate

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As climate changes in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), Africa’s “forgotten” food crops offer a wide range of options to diversify major staple production as a key measure toward achieving zero hunger and healthy diets. So far, however, these forgotten food crops have been neglected in SSA’s climate-change adaptation strategies. Here, we quantified their capacity to adapt cropping systems of SSA's major staples of maize, rice, cassava, and yams to changing climates for the four subregions of West, Central, East, and Southern Africa. We used climate-niche modeling to explore their potential for crop diversification or the replacement of these major staples by 2070, and assessed the possible effects on micronutrient supply. Our results indicated that approximately 10% of the present production locations of these four major staples in SSA may experience novel climate conditions in 2070, ranging from a high of almost 18% in West Africa to a low of less than 1% in Southern Africa. From an initial candidate panel of 138 African forgotten food crops embracing leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruits, cereals, pulses, seeds and nuts, and roots and tubers, we selected those that contributed most to covering projected future and contemporary climate conditions of the major staples’ production locations. A prioritized shortlist of 58 forgotten food crops, able to complement each other in micronutrient provision, was determined, which covered over 95% of assessed production locations. The integration of these prioritized forgotten food crops in SSA’s cropping systems will support the “double-win” of more climate-resilient and nutrient-sensitive food production in the region.

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