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Acacia, Moringa, and More

A research group founded in part by confection company Mars plans to publicly release the genome sequences of five traditional African crops, a move they say will help combat malnutrition, the Guardian reports.

The group has sequenced finger millet, African eggplant, acacia, and moringa, and says it will, over the next two months, post the data online for anyone to download for free. It adds that having the crops' genome sequences will help breed varieties that are disease or drought resistant, or that pack more of a nutritious punch.

"Making nutritious crops productive — that's the mission, and then getting them to the people who need them," project researchers Allen Van Deynze from the University of California, Davis, tells the Guardian. "For me, that's the way out of poverty — feed people properly. … Give everyone the resources that they need, mentally and physically."

Critics, though, say the project will mostly help large seed companies, not smallholder farmers. "What are farmers going to do with gene sequences? … These top-down, techno-fix solutions sound good, and sound like we're entering the 21st century, but they're not what small farmers need," says Mariam Mayet, director of the African Center for Biodiversity.