JUST FAMINE FOODS? WHAT CONTRIBUTIONS CAN UNDERUTILIZED PLANTS MAKE TO FOOD SECURITY?
Underutilized plants often serve a broad range of crucial purposes, especially in isolated, traditional communities. Some of them provide an essential nutritional safety net particularly during periods of food crop failure and times of unrest. In-spite of their labeling as foods of last resort, underutilized indigenous food crops are now receiving wider attention by researchers, farmers, and consumers in developing countries for both their nutritional and market values. Lack of economic alternatives for poor populations, increased human pressure on natural resources, and frequency of extreme weather events also provide motivation for a stronger role for marginally-used species in improving rural livelihoods and reducing environmental degradation. Underutilized indigenous crops often excel in terms of environmental adaptability, low input requirements, fit to specific cropping systems, readily produced seed or propagules, and convenient harvest and post-harvest processing characteristics. Many of them provide excellent sources of protein, minerals, and vitamins to alleviate the hidden hunger of micronutrient malnutrition that affects more than three billion people worldwide. This perception of indigenous crops as healthy food by affluent urban consumers, linked with the growth of urban markets for these crops, provides additional impetus for mainstreaming them as economically-important commodities. Heritage marketing of superior selections is also helping to link small-scale farmers and traders with growing urban markets. Commodity chains are being established that generate new and sometimes lucrative income opportunities for poor farming households in rural, peri-urban, and urban settings and thus alleviating poverty. Such successes are changing national perceptions of indigenous plants as not only important parts of agro-ecosystems and good sources of rural incomes but also as part of the national heritage that can improve year-round nutrition for entire communities. However, it must be noted that many of these species have a range of research and development needs that constrain their widespread utilization.
Hughes, J. (2009). JUST FAMINE FOODS? WHAT CONTRIBUTIONS CAN UNDERUTILIZED PLANTS MAKE TO FOOD SECURITY?. Acta Hortic. 806, 39-48
micronutrient malnutrition, health food, heritage marketing, commodity chains, rural livelihoods, urban consumers, poverty alleviation