Once neglected, these traditional crops are our new rising stars
How overlooked and underutilized crops are getting their turn in the spotlight
Did you know that not all bananas are yellow or curved like a half moon? Some are straight, some are stumpy, some are even red! There are actually 1 000 different varieties of bananas, but many of us wouldn’t know that from our markets or stores where Cavendish bananas are the ones primarily featured. Because they bruise less easily in transport and have high yields, these “typical” bananas are the ones most often produced. Despite the huge variety that exist in the world, Cavendish bananas constitute nearly 50% of bananas grown globally. The story is the same for many of our fruits and vegetables.
Over human history, out of about 30 000 edible plant species, 6 000 – 7 000 species have been cultivated for food. Yet, today we only grow approximately 170 crops on a commercially significant scale. Even more surprising, we depend highly on only about 30 of them to provide us with calories and nutrients that we need every day. More than 40 percent of our daily calories come from three staple crops: rice, wheat and maize!
There are thousands of crops that have been neglected or underutilized for centuries. This is not just a shame for all the flavors that we are missing out on, but also for the nutrients that they provide. These “neglected” crops are generally indigenous or traditional crops that thrive in specific regions of the world. Either because they are grown in small geographical areas, have low yields, require extensive processing, are susceptible to pests or simply haven’t been well researched, they never entered into the global market and, therefore, many people never know they exist – sometimes even products from our own regions. Backed by the right policies and funding, these neglected varieties could one day get recognition in the global market.
Here are 5 reasons why we should stop neglecting the crops that can revolutionize our future of food:
1. They enrich our diets – Traditional crops are often very nutritious and can offer us a more well-balanced diet. Quinoa, for example, is the only cereal that contains all the amino acids needed by human beings. The bambara ground nut offers a great source of protein, and millet is high in calcium and iron. Currently, about 1.5 billion people in the world are affected by one or more forms of micronutrient deficiency. Deficiencies in iron, zinc, iodine, vitamins A, B12 and D are widespread in both underdeveloped and developing countries, especially among women and children. These deficiencies occur not only in people who are underweight but also in people who are overweight and obese.