Ethiopian Mustard: Expanding Awareness and Genetic Diversity of a Sweet, Green Veggie

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By Andrew Boyd

Ethiopian mustard (also known as Abyssinian mustard) lacks the bitterness of its better known cousin, kale.  It’s rich in vitamins C and K,  and beta carotene and calcium, as well as cancer-fighting anti-oxidants. Ethiopian mustard also produces more leaves per plant than kale and a few leaves can be removed at a time for home consumption, allowing the rest of the plant to continues to grow.

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Despite its nutritional qualities, Ethiopian mustard has largely been overlooked in favor of calorie-rich staple grains. (Photo credit: UPenn.edu)

Despite its nutritional qualities, Ethiopian mustard—like many of Africa’s indigenous leafy greens—has largely been overlooked in favor of calorie-rich staple grains by researchers and farmers.  As a result, the genetic diversity of the plant has dwindled.  But through breeding programs, researchers are working to develop the strain’s genetic diversity for disease resistance, its applicability as a cooking oil, and as a material for industrial production.

One of these organizations is AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center. Devoted to alleviating poverty through the increase in consumption of vegetables, AVRDC has a breeding program for Ethiopian mustard in Tanzania to select for resistance to diseases and to increase leaf yields.  They have also tested combinations of organic fertilizers to determine what sorts of  non-toxic solution is the best for pest management and high yields, helping make the crop an environmentally sustainable crop for local farmers.

With proper breeding management, Ethiopian mustard has the potential to spread its roots to dinner plates through its native continent and the rest of the world.

To read more about crops indigenous to Africa see: Finger Millet: A Once and Future Staple,Lablab: The Bountiful, Beautiful Legume, The Green Gold of Africa and Potato, Potahto.

Andrew Boyd is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE .

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