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Native and Introduced Crops of Africa

Native and introduced crops of Africa

If you ask a Ghanaian what their local food is, the answer will likely be fufu, Kenkey, TZ (Saγam), Banku, or Akple. You will hear stories of how these meals are an ancient heritage, that has been passed across millennia. It is true that Ghana is a home to diverse and delicious cuisine. The same can be said about many African nations. Over the centuries, indigenous people have cultivated a rich variety of food crops that have shaped their diets. However, when Europeans arrived in Africa, they brought with them new plant species that forever altered the agricultural and dietary landscape. While we celebrate dietary heritage, it is important we distinguish between what is recent, and what has always been African or Ghanaian.

Indigenous Ghanaian and African Crops


Millet is one of the oldest grains grown in pre-European West Africa. It is widely cultivated in the Savanna and Sahel regions. The crop is resilient and tolerates low amount of rainfall. Pearl millet was domesticated in Northern Ghana about 1250 BC (Davies, 1968) or 1459 BC (D’Andrea et al., 2001). People use millet to make staples like Tuozaafi (Saγam), porridge, beer, and various types of bread. In Ghana, it is widely grown in the regions of the north, especially the Upper East Region and the Upper West Region. Millet has been replaced by maize in some areas as the staple for TZ and porridge.


In the 1500s, when Europeans arrived in Africa, they discovered large fields of rice. It is estimated that indigenous rice in Africa may have been domesticated as early as 1500BC. Indigenous African rice varieties grew along riverbanks and in swampy areas, providing a vital source of nutrition for the population. Jollof, waakye and several meals are made from rice.


Yam is an indigenous African crop, largely cultivated in Nigeria and Ghana. Researchers estimates that yam was domesticated as early as 5000 BC. It is used to prepare fufu (sakoro) and yam porridge. It is also boiled or fried. In Ghana, yam is largely cultivated in the Bono, Bono East, Northern, Savanna, Eastern and Oti regions.


Plantains did not originate in the African continent. It is thought to have originated from south-east Asia. However, it has been on the continent for millennia. Plantain is used to prepare fufu in Ghana. It is also boiled or fried and eaten with stew or pepper.


Cowpeas are native to Africa. It is a significant source of protein in the African diet. It originated in Southern Africa but spread across the continent. Cowpea is used in preparing foods like waakye in Ghana.


Groundnut is an indigenous African crop that has high protein content. It is used to make soups, paste (butter) and snacks such as kulikuli.

Crops introduced to Africa by Europeans

Starting the 16th century when Europeans landed on the shores of Africa, many new crops were introduced which have shaped the diets of people in Africa. Some of these are:


Maize arrived in Africa and Ghana in the 1500s. It was introduced by Europeans who landed on the shores of Gold Coast. It quickly became a dietary staple and is now used in many traditional dishes such as Akple, Banku, and TZ.


Tomatoes are a recent crop in Africa. It was brought to Africa in the 19th century and is one of the primary staples used in soups and stews.


Potatoes are more recent in Africa than tomatoes. It gained widespread adoption in the 20th century.


Mango was introduced into East Africa by Arab and Persian traders. It arrived in West Africa much later in the 1800s.


The Portuguesse introduced cassava to Africa and Ghana in the 1500s. It has become a dietary mainstay and is used to make dishes like Gari and fufu. In Ghana, cassava is mainly cultivated along the coastal and forest belt. Ghana is among the top 5 cassava producers in Africa.


In conclusion, the agro and culinary heritage of Ghana and Africa as a features a diverse array of indigenous crops that have sustained generations. Millet, rice, yam, plantain, cowpeas, and groundnut are among the ancient staples that have formed an important part of the traditional Ghanaian and African diets. However, with the arrival of Europeans is marked with the introduction of crops like maize, tomatoes, potatoes, mangoes, and cassava. While celebrating this fusion of old and new, it’s essential to recognize the distinction between what is deeply rooted in African heritage and what is more recent.


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