Maize also widely known as corn is a cereal crop which has been known to Africans since the 1500's and is one of the continent's dominant food crops. It is widely grown all over the world and can thrive in a range of agro-ecological environments. Corn is used as livestock feed, as human food, as biofuel, and as raw material in industry.
Commercial classifications, based mainly on kernel texture, include dent corn, flint corn, flour corn, sweet corn, and popcorn. Dent corn is characterized by a depression in the crown of the kernel caused by unequal drying of the hard and soft starch making up the kernel. Flint corn, containing little soft starch, has no depression. Flour corn, composed largely of soft starch, has soft, mealy, easily ground kernels. Sweet corn has wrinkled translucent seeds. Popcorn, an extreme type of flint corn characterized by small hard kernels, is devoid of soft starch, and heating causes the moisture in the cells to expand, making the kernels explode. Improvements in corn have resulted from hybridization, based on crossbreeding of superior inbred strains.
Many parts of the corn plant are used in industry. Cornstarch can be broken down into corn syrup, a common sweetener that is generally less expensive than sucrose; high-fructose corn syrup is used extensively in processed foods such as soft drinks and candies. Stalks are made into paper and wallboard; husks are used as filling material; cobs are used directly for fuel, to make charcoal, and in the preparation of industrial solvents. Corn grain is processed by wet milling, in which the grain is soaked in a dilute solution of sulfurous acid; by dry milling, in which the corn is exposed to a water spray or steam; and by fermentation, in which starches are changed to sugars and yeast is employed to convert the sugars into alcohol. Corn husks also have a long history of use in the folk arts for objects such as woven amulets and corn-husk dolls.
Beniseed, or Sesame Seed as it is sometimes referred to, is an annual flowering plant which is cultivated for its seeds, grows in pods and is believed to be the oldest cultivated oilseed in the world. Although with a doubtful origin, it is widely believed to have originated from Africa. Sesame is often called by different names based on the location, some of its common names are Benniseed, Gingilly, Simsim, Tahini, and Til. Sesame was introduced to Nigeria after the Second World War and was mostly cultivated as a minor crop in the Northern and Central part of Nigeria until 1974 when it began to gain prominence as a major cash crop. Although sesame cultivation is on the increase in terms of areas cultivated, its full potential is yet to be explored in Nigeria due to lack of local farmers adherence to best farm practices suitable to its growth.
Sesame ranks eighth in the world production of edible oil seeds, with higher oil content than other oilseed crops. It is grown mainly for its seeds that contain approximately 50% oil and 25% protein. The presence of some antioxidants (sesamum, sesamolin, and sesamol) makes the oil one of the most stable vegetable oils in the world. In addition to having high oil content. Sesame seed is known for its nutritional and medicinal qualities. The seed contains all essential amino acids and fatty acids and it is a good source of vitamins (pantothenic acid and vitamin E) and minerals such as calcium (1450 mg/100g) and phosphorous (570 mg/100g).
Cowpea, popularly referred to as beans, is the most economically important indigenous African legume and most versatile African crop which feeds people, their livestock, the soil and other crops. In Nigeria it is simply known as ‘beans’. If you ask a layman in Nigeria what cowpea is, you would have a hard time finding the right answer but once you say Beans, they know exactly what you mean. There are two major varieties that are popularly known to people in southwest Nigeria; sweet beans or honey beans (ewa oloyin) and Nigerian brown beans (ewa drum).
There are a lot of great reasons why one should cultivate this crop; it can tolerate low rainfall and shortage of water, performs well in a wide variety of soils, and being a legume, it replenishes low fertility soils when the roots are left to decay, which makes it an ideal crop for crop rotation.
Cowpea is an important economic crop, because of its various attributes such as: ability to adapt to different type of soils and suitability for intercropping, it grows and covers the topmost soil which in turn prevents erosion, all parts of Cowpea are useful even the leaves which can produce 9 times the calories, 15 times the protein, 90 times the calcium and thousands of times more vitamin C and beta-carotene of cowpea seed. Cowpea also complements a lot of cereal crops.
Soyabean is a leguminous vegetable of the pea family that grows in tropical, subtropical, and temperate climates. Soybean was domesticated in the 11th century BC around northeast of China. It is believed that it might have been introduced to Africa in the 19th century by Chinese traders along the east coast of Africa.
The plant is classed as an oilseed rather than a pulse by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Soy varies in growth and habit. The height of the plant varies from less than 0.2 to 2.0 m. The pods, stems, and leaves are covered with fine brown or gray hairs. The leaves fall before the seeds are mature. The crop can be successfully grown in many states in Nigeria using low agricultural input. Soybean cultivation in Nigeria has expanded as a result of its nutritive and economic importance and diverse domestic usage.
The most nutritious and most easily digested food of the bean family, the soybean is one of the richest and cheapest sources of protein. Government sources estimate that about 25 percent of Nigeria's domestic production is consumed directly in rural areas as human food. It is a staple in the diet of people and animals in numerous parts of the world today. Many leguminous crops provide some protein, but soybean is the only available crop that provide high quality source of protein comparable to meat, poultry and eggs.
Soybeans vary in protein from 24-45%. Soybeans vary in oil from 17-35%. Thus the different cultivated varieties can taste quite different from one another. Soybean oil; an extract from the seed is a major source of healthy oil in the world. It is also processed into soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy cheese etc.
A by-product from the oil production (soybean cake) is used as a high-protein animal feed in many countries. Soybean also improves soil fertility by adding nitrogen from the atmosphere. This is a major benefit in African farming systems, where soils have become exhausted by the need to produce more food for increasing populations, and where fertilizers are hardly available and are expensive for farmers.
Cassava is a tropical, shrubby, perennial plant with an edible root, serving as a major source of carbohydrate in human diet. Cassava originated from tropical America and was first introduced into Africa in the Congo basin by the Portuguese around 1558. Cassava has been cultivated for centuries in the Americas, initially for human consumption and more recently cultivated for the production of dry chips (used as animal feed), ethanol and starch. With cassava viewed as a food security crop and therefore poorly commercialized, the changes along the Cassava Value Chainhave been minimal. However, since the advent of cassava usage in production and processing of animal feed, Asia and Latin America have witnessed rapid changes in the value chain system. Other contributing factors include new government policies promoting the use of cassava based products, improvements in cassava processing technology and the emerging importance of cassava as an effective industrial raw material for starch, animal feed and ethanol industries.
Africa depends much on root and tuber crops more than all continents in feeding its population. It is processed into several forms such as Gari (for making eba a popular food in Nigeria), Fufu, Tapioka. The cassava plant gives the third highest yield of carbohydrates per cultivated area among crop plants, after for sugarcane and sugar beets. Cassava plays a particularly important role in agriculture in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, because it does well on poor soils and with low rainfall, and because it is a perennial that can be harvested as required. Its wide harvesting window allows it to act as a famine reserve and is invaluable in managing labor schedules. It offers flexibility to resource-poor farmers because it serves as either subsistence or a cash crop.
Cassava starch is used in making products such as biscuits, bread and derivatives such as sagos and sauce. Cassava starch has also been industrially modified to provide products with physical and chemical properties for specific applications, including the preparation of jelly, thickening agents, gravies, custard powders, baby food, glucose and confectioneries.
Recent developmental researches confirm the use of cassava as an ethanol biofuel feedstock. As a result, cassava (tapioca) chips have gradually become a major source for ethanol production.
Cassava is used worldwide for animal feed. Cassava hay contains high protein (20–27% crude protein) and condensed tannins (1.5–4% CP). It is used as a good roughage source for dairy or beef cattle, buffalo, goats, and sheep by either direct feeding or as a protein source in the concentrate mixtures.
Ginger is a tropical monocotyledonous and an herbaceous perennial plant which produces annual stems. The plant produces erect, tall and dark green shoot (pseudo stems) which measures about 30-100cm above the ground with long, narrow, ribbed green leaves which are 5-25 cm long and 1-3cm wide. It produces clusters of white and pink flower buds which bloom into white or yellowish-green flower. Ginger plant is mainly grown for its roots (which are known as rhizomes) popularly called ginger. Ginger is the underground root of the ginger plant with a firm striated texture. It has a brownish skin which could be either thin or thick depending on when it is harvested. The ginger flesh is most times yellow in color and is some cases white or red. It is widely used as a spice or herbal medicine because of its aromatic, pungent and hot taste. Ginger can be used fresh in dishes or in its processed forms such as dry ginger rhizomes, powder ginger, pickled ginger, ginger crystals and ginger paste. Ginger is also an important export crop valued for its powder, oil and oleoresin.
Nigeria is currently one of the main producers of ginger in the world and the major producers in Africa. With its annual world production surpassing 1.5 million tons and because of the several forms in which it’s traded, Ginger is now one of the most important trade commodities in the world. Its medicinal, culinary and cosmetic uses cannot be overemphasized as well as its following economic importance which the Nigerian government should consider harnessing in full.