Many of you are familiar with the book Under-exploited Tropical Plants with Promising Economic Value. In the early 1970s , the U.S. National Academy of Sciences surveyed scientists around the world to determine which plants had the greatest potential for introduction to other tropical countries. This book includes 36 plants chosen from among 400 that were nominated. Subsequent books in the same vein are Tropical Legumes : Resources for the Future and Firewood Crops. You may write for free copies to The Commission on International Relations (JH 215), National Academy of Sciences --National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Avenue, Washington D.C. 20418, USA.
A typical reaction upon reading these books is to become very excited and eager to try a few of the plants in one's own part of the world, followed by discouragement with the difficulty in obtaining seed. Some of the sources listed at the end of each chapter (nearly all are scientists or scientific institutions) can still supply seed. Very few have funding for this purpose and many are no longer able to supply seed for these plants or respond to the inquiry. ECHO is convinced that in the long run there is tremendous benefit from putting seeds for these plants into your hands. For that reason, we are growing as many of them as we can get our hands on and have already begun harvesting seed for a few. There are others that we have not yet been able to obtain, and
some will not grow in southern Florida.
I hope to feature one of these plants in most issues of EDN. I will also list in each issue some of the other seed that is currently available. Please understand that we supply seed for trial and that the plants must be treated at first as experimental before making recommendations to members of your community. We do not guarantee the seed count in each package, the viability may sometimes be low, and there may only be a few seeds in your packet if our supplies are limited and demand is great. You should watch the planting carefully the first season to make sure it is not likely to become a problem plant in your area. (E.g., we cannot grow seed of water spinach here because Florida is concerned about it becoming a weed in the water canals). We cannot supply quantities of seed for routine production. Rather, we expect you to increase your own seed if the performance of the plant warrants this. Sometimes we may send more than one variety of a requested seed, so that you can determine which of these give superior performance in your region.
In all cases, we look upon those who request seed a collaborators with us in field trials. This does not mean that you must do elaborate experimentation. But we do expect you to take time to write to us after the food has been harvested, letting us know your general impressions on its suitability to the region and the culture. We will use this information to make more refined recommendations to others and to share with interested scientists.
We do not require payment by non-profit organizations working to introduce these plants into their community. [UPDATE: see "Welcome to the ECHO Network" for details on ordering seed.] The next time you are in the capital city of your country, you might inquire about any special procedures for importing seed, then send us any required forms with your order.
ECHO Staff 1982. Underexploited Tropical Plants. ECHO Development Notes no. 2