Rediscovering hidden treasures of neglected and underutilized species for Zero Hunger in Asia

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is at the heart of the work of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), especially Sustainable Development Goal 2, which calls for the eradication of hunger and all forms of malnutrition. Delivering on this pledge requires that all people are able to access adequate and nutritious food, which will require a sustainable increase in the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers. Furthermore, it will entail a transformation of food systems and an inclusive pro-poor boost to rural development to be pursued while sustaining our natural resource base and safeguarding biodiversity.

The purpose of this publication is: i) to demonstrate the multidimensional benefits of neglected and underutilized species (NUS) and their potential contribution to achieving Zero Hunger; ii) to identify promising NUS – sometimes called ‘orphan crops’ – that are nutrition-dense, climate-resilient, economically viable and locally available or adaptable as ‘Future Smart Food’ (FSF); iii) to highlight the challenges and opportunities for harnessing these less-mainstream food crops; and iv) to provide strategic recommendations to create an enabling environment for the promotion, production, marketing and consumption of FSF assuring healthy diets for the future.

FAO considers that NUS have a central role to play in the ght against hunger and malnutrition, and that they are currently being overlooked. Today, just 103 out of the nearly 30 000 edible plant species worldwide provide up to 90 percent of the calories in the human diet (and 60 percent of the world’s caloric intake comes from just a few staples such as maize, rice, wheat, soybean and potato. This percentage can reach up to 80 percent in some parts of the world).

Buoyed by the successes of the International Year of Quinoa (2013) and International Year of Pulses (2016), awareness of NUS as a valuable resource for sustainable agriculture and rural development has increased. Using sound scienti c underpinnings to promote NUS can help diversify food production and diets in economically, socially and environmentally sustainable ways while contributing to the resilience of smallholder and rural populations.

The overarching global vision on NUS needs to be translated into concrete actions on the ground. FAO’s Regional O ce for Asia and the Paci c, as part of its Regional Initiative on the Zero Hunger Challenge, is taking a leading role in harnessing the hidden treasures embodied in NUS, which we like to call Future Smart Food. These foods are smart because they can bolster dietary diversification, improve micronutrient intake, enhance soil health, require fewer inputs such as chemical fertilizers, and often prove resilient to climate change and adverse farming conditions.

Turning the potential of FSF into real bene ts is not an easy task. It requires a systems approach, multidisciplinary analysis, multi-stakeholder consultation and cross-sectoral coordination. To achieve Zero Hunger, more attention needs to be given to both production and consumption. Identifying which species are appropriate is just an initial step from a food-system perspective. How to create an enabling environment across value chains – to promote sustainable production, processing, marketing and consumption of FSF – is essential to achieving Zero Hunger.