Traditional diets included a wide variety of ingredients from myriad wild and domesticated plants. Regional cuisines were shaped by native species in their local environment and by gradually-adopted plants from distant places. The modern global food system and market pressures have reversed this trend, so that today’s diets rely on a dwindling number of crops for a growing number of people. This has profound effects on health and leads to dependence on unstable commodity markets. Malnutrition and food insecurity are critical issues for society’s most vulnerable citizens.
This Technical Note (TN) will explore the unique plants that are used around the world to add variety and dependability to diets. Some species are wild or naturalized and can be found in forests, fields, and wetlands. Some are old cultivars of widely grown crops that have fallen out of use. Others are popular in one part of the world, but could be a valuable contribution to diets around the globe. Many have multiple uses and benefits. An essential part of ECHO’s mission is to make seeds or cuttings of these traditional plants available to at-risk communities.
This TN addresses underutilized crops from the perspective of the smallholder farmer and community-based development worker. It will not discuss national and international policies, or international genetic preservation efforts. It will discuss underutilized plants and climate change from the perspective of local- and farm-level resilience, but will not examine global mitigation and adaptation implications. Livestock, aquaculture, or marine species are not addressed in this TN.
Benefits and Abundance
Challenges, Concerns, and Cautions
Selecting Underutilized Plants
Evaluation and Promotion of Underutilized Crops