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Abstract, Plants People Planet, 2020 Dec

Societal Impact Statement

Using Taro (Colocasia esculenta) as a case study, we examine how perception gaps contribute to negative feedback loops that create or maintain the orphan status of certain crops. For students and researchers seeking uncrowded areas for study, orphan crops and crop-wild-relatives offer large open spaces, figuratively and literally. Learning how to see what has not been seen may in turn help us to reduce our global dependence on very few crops, and the risks that follow from this. The combination of climate change and variability and increasing population has painted a dark picture of future food security for many regions in the world where resources are scarce. The key to future food and nutrition security may very well lie in unlocking the untapped potential of orphan and overlooked crops.


The present distribution of taro (Colocasia esculenta), as a cultivated food plant, extends from southern to northern Africa, western Asia to eastern Asia, throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, and through the Americas, from the USA to Brazil. Despite its vast geographical range, high nutritional value, and considerable trade as a fresh and processed crop, there has been relatively little interest in taro and its wild relatives among research funding agencies, and little effective or large-scale assessment of production, trade and usage. Given the proven ability of this crop to grow under diverse climatic regimes, from the equatorial tropics to northern and southern temperate zones it may be useful to consider perception gaps that contribute to disregard of the crop. Here we suggest and discuss a range of perception gaps that together may explain the status of taro as an orphan crop. Perception gaps exist because of many factors: dogma, linguistic diversity, social biases, under-research, limited physical visibility of living wild populations, poor archaeological visibility, missing production numbers and inaccurate distribution maps. These contributing factors are shared, to lesser or greater extent, by many other orphan crops, but the disjunction between actual utilization (significant) and research effort (minimal) may be greater for taro than for most other “orphans”.

KEYWORDS Colocasia esculenta, gap, orphan crop, perception, taro