Underutilized plant species are defined as “those species with under-exploited potential for contribution to food security, health (nutritional and/or medicinal), income generation, and environmental services”. Orphan grain crops can help meet a major worldwide challenge: to sustainably increase crop production in marginal lands that are mostly unfit for growing maize, wheat or other high yielding crops but that must be used for sustainable food production in the next two decades to respond to growing demand. Although not the “most orphan” crops, African rice Oryza glaberrima, pearl millet, sorghum and durum wheat do not benefit from the same level of knowledge and genomic resources as model crop species.
Using a transversal approach, agricultural systems were analyzed to understand the dynamics of crop diversity. Surveys were conducted intensively in 4 countries (Burkina Faso, Guinea, Morocco, and Kenya), focusing on crop diversity while analyzing the relative cultural and agronomic importance of species, as well as the temporal dynamics of agro-ecosystems. This approach allowed us to better understand the biological and socio-economic factors that affect the distribution of crop diversity.