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Orphan crops get some help – Audio

Shelby Ellison, honorary associate/fellow
Department of Horticulture
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

3:07 – Total Time

0:14 – What are orphan crops
0:28 – Examples of orphan crops
1:06 – Quinoa crop adopted
1:29 – How an orphan crop is adopted
1:49 – Why so important
2:20 – Global efforts to help
2:42 – For information on orphan crops
2:58 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Finding a family for orphan crops. We’re visiting today with Shelby Ellison, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.
Shelby, start out by telling us what are orphan crops?
Shelby Ellison: Orphan crops are crops that you probably have never heard of, so they’re underutilized. Another way to think about them is they’re crops that have promise that we haven’t looked into enough yet.
Sevie Kenyon: Can you give us some examples of orphan crops?
Shelby Ellison: I can. A lot of the developing world has many of these orphan crops and a few of them in Africa are examples such as finger millet, which is one of the most nutritious world cereal crops. There’s also pigeon pea which is commonly referred to as the poor man’s meat because it is a very good source of protein. And a third is something called the baobab tree. The fruit from this tree, when ground into a powder, has very, very high concentrations of potassium and antioxidants, as well as calcium.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby can you give us an example of one of these crops that may have been adopted? Shelby Ellison: Well one orphan crop that you may actually know of now is quinoa. This is an example of a crop that was grown in the Andean region of South America. Now in the last five years, its exports have doubled and the price for quinoa that those Andean farmers are getting has tripled.
Sevie Kenyon: For an orphan crop to be adopted, what constitutes its adoptive family?
Shelby Ellison: Orphan crops typically do not have the resources they need. So for them to show their true promise, you need farmers and researchers and consumers to provide them with the resources they need.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, give me an idea why people should be interested in these orphan crops?
Shelby Ellison: One thing that’s very interesting about them is they tend to have very specific ecological niches, such that they can grow in elevated temperature or high salinity or drought conditions so they have a lot of beneficial traits that need to be explored. For a lot of farmers in these developing countries having crops that grow well near them is very important for their livelihood.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, are there efforts to improve orphan crops around the world?
Shelby Ellison: Yes, one example would be African Orphan Crops Consortium. The goal of this consortium is to sequence 100 genomes of orphan crops in Africa. And the aim of this is to increase resources to increase the nutritional value and the post-harvest quality of these crops.
Sevie Kenyon: Shelby, if people are interested where can they get more information?
Shelby Ellison: If you just do a quick Google search for orphan crops more than likely the top two hits you’ll see are for the African Orphan Crops Consortium to learn more about that project and Wikipedia actually has a very well maintained list of these orphan crops.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Shelby Ellison, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.