Conserving the past, nourishing the future: unlocking the agronomical potential of traditional food systems in Northern Uganda with two famine crops

October 2023 to September 2025
indigenous food systems (IFSs)
agricultural practices
climate change
orphan crops
local farmer groups
cultivation techniques
civil war
erosion of indigenous knowledge
Research fields
Agriculture and Food Sciences

Indigenous food systems (IFSs) are traditional ways of growing, processing, and consuming foods developed over generations in a particular region or community (5). These have adapted to local environmental conditions and are closely tied to cultural practices, social organization, and community values. IFSs can help improve agricultural practices in the face of climate change by providing crops and cropping practices adapted to extreme climate conditions. Uganda, where 85% of the population relies on rainfed agriculture, is particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change on food security (12, 18). IFSs can provide important lessons for improving and diversifying agricultural practices. "Famine crops" are orphan crops that can grow in harsh conditions and provide food during drought, famine, or food crises. They can survive with minimal farmer inputs, making them well-suited for subsistence farming in areas with limited resources. The Langi and Acholi are two ethnic groups living in Northern Uganda that traditionally utilize indigenous edible leafy vegetables during prolonged dry seasons. The civil war in Northern Uganda has contributed to the erosion of indigenous knowledge. The actions considered in this project proposal seek to restore the value of IFSs in Northern Uganda by focusing on the study and use together with local farmer groups of Apala and Koro sub-counties of Lango and Acholi sub-regions respectively, local communities, and agriculture extension workers, of two famine crops, Heterosis rotundifolia (, and Asystasia gangetica ssp. micrantha (, and Asystasia gangetica ssp. micrantha ( The study will investigate the distribution and agroecology of these two famine crops, describe their phenology and cultivation requirements, and ultimately implement cultivation techniques that will allow their incorporation into the farmers' produce basket. The project will bridge through participatory breeding two communities separated by years of conflict.