Neglected and underutilized crops species
1. Agricultural productivity must be increased sustainably in order to eradicate hunger and malnutrition as committed to in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs)1 and meet the projected 50 percent increase in demand for nutritious food between 2012 and 20502,3. The over 800 million people who are chronically hungry and the two billion who suffer micronutrient deficiencies worldwide underline the need to act. This situation is exacerbated by the ever more frequent erratic extreme weather events and the incidents of new strains and biotypes of pests and diseases in new areas, being symptomatic of climate change. Also, the limited natural resource base (especially arable lands and water) and many different socioeconomic drivers confound the efforts being made by governments, global and regional intergovernmental bodies, industry, academia, civil society and others to ensure that countries will achieve the SDGs.
2. Globally, there are almost 400 000 vascular plant species4. Of these, a little over 6 000 species have been actively cultivated for human consumption5. With this rich diversity available, the agricultural production systems globally depend on a narrow list of crop species. For example in 2013, only nine crops (sugar cane, maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, oil palm fruit, sugar beet and cassava) accounted for 53 percent of global average daily calories.
3. While such global averages mask the local diversity that still exists in many parts of the world, they also indicate that a business as usual approach will not avail farmers of the diverse suite of crops and varieties7 required for the sustainable agricultural production and food systems that would enable the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Clearly, the widest possible diversity of crops and their varieties must be harnessed as a means to increasing the production and productivity. Far too many nutritious, hardy and external input use-efficient crops which could be deployed in ecosystem-based, environment-friendly and climate change-resilient agricultural production systems are neglected or otherwise underutilized.
4. This paper introduces neglected and underutilized species (NUS), plants with prospective value as crops but which have been paid limited attention by agricultural researchers, plant breeders, seed companies and policymakers. Typically non-commodity crops, they include thousands of domesticated, semi-domesticated or wild species of cereals and pseudo-cereals, roots and tubers, fruits and nuts, vegetables, legumes, spices, condiments and food dye agents8. A database, INFOODS List of underutilized species contributing to the Nutritional Indicators for Biodiversity, of the International Network of Food Data Systems (INFOODS) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), lists the countries where more than 1000 unique NUS are found.