Non Edible Uses of African Crops

Africa is home to many diverse countries with many languages, races, countries, cultures and, most importantly, food. Most of these foods are processed from plants ranging from cassava to yam to sweet potato. Although crops are mostly harvested for food, many plants have inedible uses that are increasing in popularity. These are some of the most important African crops and their alternate uses.


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Rice is the seed of a type of cereal grain and it is widely consumed by the human population. Today, Asia accounts for 87% of rice production and is the largest producer, exporter, and consumer. African rice has been harvested for about 3,500 years with early cultivation happening in the Niger Delta area. Currently, Nigeria ranks 12th in world production of rice with China in 1st. The inedible uses of rice include:

  • Rice Water
    The process of preserving the starchy water began hundreds of years ago in China. During preparation, after rice is boiled the remaining starch water is often discarded. The fermented rice water has now been rediscovered as a natural facial toner and hair conditioner. Now as it is increasing in popularity, people are beginning to enjoy the increased hair elasticity and strength as well as tighter and brighter skin.

  • Saving Electronics
    A common go-to method for saving your phone or tablet that accidentally dropped in water would be to place it in a bag of rice. Due to its highly absorbent nature, rice (most times) will be able to revive your device.


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Onions are vegetables cultivated and used all around the world. Nigerian onions are grown mainly in the northern parts and green onion production accounts for 5.5% of that in the world. Currently, Nigeria ranks 8th in world production of onions with China in 1st. Some of the unconventional uses onion are:

  • Hair Growth
    Onion juice is used to enhance hair growth. The sulfur in onions boosts collagen production and results in hair growth and strength.

  • Insect Repellent
    Although the smell of onions can be seen as a “human repellent” in itself, a slice of onion applied on the skin is a natural insect repellent and soothes present bites.


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Plantains are a staple in most West African, South American and Caribbean meals. It is the fruit of its tall trees and shares many similarities to bananas (are sometimes referred to as cooking banana). Although Nigeria one of the highest producers of plantain in Africa, most of these plantains are for local consumption and therefore Nigeria is not a large exporter. Currently, Nigeria ranks 6th in world production of plantains with Democratic Republic of Congo in 1st. Here are some of plantain’s medicinal uses.

  • Plantain Leaves
    The leaves are used to make a tea that is consumed to treat cold and cough.

  • Injury Relief
    The antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect of the plant makes it helpful in treating minor wounds, cuts, and scrapes.

Shea (Butter)

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The Shea Tree is an indigenous African tree which bears fruit that contains an oil-rich seed in which oil is extracted from. There is an evidence of the production of Shea from as early as the 14th century. And now, almost 1000 years later, there is still a market for Shea butter due to its cosmetic properties. Currently, Nigeria accounts for 57% of Shea butter world production used for both chocolate and cosmetic purposes. As expected, here are some of this fruit’s uses.

  • Skin Care

    • Skin Moisturizer
      The high concentration of fatty acids softens, conditions and soothe the skin. However, using this as a facial moisturiser is not recommended for acne-prone or oily skin.

    • Sun Protection
      In addition to being a natural moisturiser, Shea butter offers mild sun protection but should not be used as sunscreen alternative.

  • Hair Care
    Applied to damp hair, Shea butter acts as a sealant to lock in moisture and prevents dryness, split ends, dryness and frizz.

Avocado (Oil)

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Avocados are the fruit of their tree, which is said to have originated from Mexico and it is grown in the Mediterranean climate. Although the time of introduction to Nigeria is unclear, it has been traced as far back as the 1920s chiefly in the Southern regions.

  • Skincare
    The fatty acids as well as vitamins A, D & E nourishes the skin, treats sunburned and acne covered skin and also reduces signs of ageing. While applying directly on the skin is the most common way to use avocado oil, it can also be added in a bath to prevent dryness.

  • Hair Care
    Much like Shea butter, avocado oil is like water in the desert for hair. In addition, it can be used as a scalp treatment for dandruff, psoriasis and other issues with stemming from dryness.


Image Source: VectorStock

Although its name is misleading, coconut is a fruit and not a nut. Coconuts are harvested for their oil, milk, food, and water. Evidence dating back to 1,000 BC shows the presence of coconuts in the Indian subcontinent. Currently, Nigeria ranks 19th in world production of coconuts with Indonesia in 1st. An abbreviated list of the many utilizations of the palm tree is below.

  • Coconut Oil

    • Oil Pulling
      Swishing around coconut oil in the mouth for ten minutes a day significantly reduces the number of harmful bacteria and plaque in the mouth. This method is an inexpensive and effective addition to daily oral hygiene care.

    • Skincare

      • Skin Softener
        Coconut oil can be applied to dry and cracked skin to soften which also provides mild sun protection. To create an exfoliant, salt can be added to clear pores, even skin tone and remove dead skin.

      • Make-Up Remover
        This natural remover is a safe and easy alternative to the harsh ingredients of store-bought make-up removers.

    • Stain Removal
      Coconut oil mixed with an equal amount of baking soda can be used as a stain surface cleaner. However, it is advised to test the surface beforehand.

  • Coconut Leaves

    • Thatching
      It provides shelter as a cheap alternative to newer housing materials.

    • Brooms
      Coconut leaves also contain midrib which has strength and durability and is used in brooms most notably in Asia.

Udara/Agbalumo/Star Apple

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Better known as Agbumaluma or Udara, White star apple is a tropical fruit popular in West Africa. It is named after the shape that the seeds form in the fruit. This fruit is a common snack during its peak season and its sweet taste has gained a lot of popularity. Some of the local uses for Udara are as follows;

  • Seed
    The seeds of Udara are used in certain parts of Nigeria to treat skin and vaginal infections.

  • Bark
    The bark of African star apple can be used to treat yellow fever and malaria.

Palm Tree

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Palm Trees are evergreen plants known for their tall stems and leaves. They have historical importance and are often seen as plants of eternal life, peace, and fertility. Palms tend to flourish in humid environments but are resilient in different climates. Currently, Nigeria ranks 4th in world production of palm oil fruit with Indonesia in 1st. Almost all parts of the palm tree are utilized from the fruit and wax to the leaves and wood and these are their uses.

  • Leaves
    • Baskets and Brooms.
      The palm oil leaves are anywhere between 3 and 5 meters. The woody stem of the leaves is strong can be used as a base for weaving baskets and which is very popular in Africa.

    • Thatch
      The process of thatching is an old roofing method very common in tropical countries. This versatile material is still the most popular roofing tool in the world because it is readily available and cheap. Palm tree leaves are an obvious choice for this process due to its long and sturdy leaves.


Image Source: VectorStock

Cassava is considered the 3rd most consumed carbohydrate after maize and rice. The cassava plant is native to South America and is harvested for its root. Currently, Nigeria is the world’s highest producer of Cassava. Cassava is a staple food in developing countries but these are other areas where it is used.

  • Biofuel
    Renewable energy from cassava is possible due to its high starch content mostly in the roots (which is 96% pure ethanol).

  • Biodegradable plastic.
    This research is very promising as it hopes to eradicate the pending issue of plastic pollution. To achieve that, non-degradable plastics replaced with a waste product of cassava; cassava starch. This not only creates a closed and efficient production system but also is environmentally conscious.

  • Animal Feed
    Cassava Hay is harvested and used as fibre for cattle and other farm animals.


Image Source: VectorStock

Sugarcane is a tall and stalky plant cultivated mainly for its high sucrose content(which is turned to sugar or ethanol).Sugarcane became a huge attraction during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which was harvested by slaves in the Caribbean and used for sugar and rum. Currently, Nigeria ranks 49th in world production of sugarcane with Brazil in 1st. Most of the world’s sugarcane is grown in tropical and this is what they are used for besides food.

  • Biofuel
    Ethanol is generally created as a byproduct of sugar production. It can be used as a biofuel alternative to gasoline.

  • Electricity
    After cultivation, the sugarcane produces both juice and bagasse, the dry matter. Sugarcane bagasse is a potentially abundant source of energy for large producers of sugarcane. This bagasse is burned and creates steam which creates electricity from what may have been a waste product.

So @Everybody, if you have any inedible uses of your favourite crops, please share in the comment section below :smiley:


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Thanks, this is helpful.

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Taiwo Kolawole

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I need assistance for my poultry farm.

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Garlic is a vegetable and very important to our body how we preserve it

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