Spotlight on forgotten crops

Spotlight on forgotten crops

This year neglected and underutilized species found the spotlight: 2013 was designated the UN International Year of Quinoa. Read more in this 2013 Annual Report story.

This year neglected and underutilized species found the spotlight: 2013 was designated the UN International Year of Quinoa, and Professor M.S. Swaminathan, World Food Prize laureate, called for the United Nations to devote a year to the world’s “forgotten crops”.

Neglected and underutilized species (NUS) are species that have fallen under the radar of mainstream research and development, which typically focuses on just a few staple crops – rice, wheat and maize. This lack of attention means their potential value is often underestimated. This in turn leads to their marginalization, reduced use and ultimate disappearance from the market and our tables. Yet these species are often better adapted to cultivation on marginal lands and in changing climates, are more nutritious, and require less pesticide and fertilizer than their staple counterparts.

The 3rd International Conference on Neglected and Underutilized Species – for a Food-secure Africa, which took place in Accra, Ghana, in September, was co-organized by Bioversity International. Participants from 36 countries shared research results and debated policy issues around the resilience of agricultural and livelihood systems, developing value chains and creating an enabling policy environment.

In 2013, we also saw the completion of a 3-year initiative to assess the market potential of chilli pepper in Peru and Bolivia – home to the world’s chilli diversity. While chilli pepper is not an underutilized crop as such, it is little studied and its diversity holds market potential for smallholder producers. There is also growing interest from food companies as consumers demand more exotic and spicy flavours. Work to collect and characterize chilli varieties stored in genebanks carried out in Bolivia and Peru assessed commercially valuable traits to identify the most promising varieties. Improved cultivation practices, harvest and post-harvest methods were developed, and innovative value-added products such as jams and a speciality cheese were successfully commercialized.

Bioversity International has worked with partners on NUS for over 10 years, contributing to a better understanding of their genetic diversity, as well as further determining their conservation status, traditional and potential uses, and potential contribution to the livelihoods of smallholder farming communities. We also advocate for policies to support the conservation and sustainable use of these crops in many countries.

Work in this area is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutes and Markets and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, and is supported by IFAD and BMZ/GIZ.

This story was featured in Bioversity International's 2013 Annual Report.

Read the entire 2013 Annual Report here