Crop production today is over-dependent on only a small number of plant species; 75% of world agriculture comes from only 15-17 crops FAOSTAT, 2012). Agriculture must adapt to changing climatic conditions and one area of crops receiving substantial research interest recently are neglected and underutilized species (NUS).
NUS are wild crops found in many different countries and are often used in indigenous communities and cultivated by farmers. NUS has the potential to improve local community livelihood and has unexploited economic potential.
There are several advantages of neglected and underutilised species
One example, is the seed of Jatropha pseudocurcas, a potential oilseed crop, which has been identified because of its ability to survive the harshness of climate change – hotter summers, aridity and extreme temperatures with less rainfall. Furthermore, when crops are grown in monocultures, they become increasingly susceptible to disease.
India is facing a bigger problem. The government is subsidising farmers for growing major crops such as rice, but this requires huge amounts of water and chemicals to produce. ‘Minor millets’, termed minor because they only account for 1% of food grains have received very little research attention, but they can be grown in poor soil and climatic conditions as well as provide nutritional benefits to communities.
Growing crops such as foxtail millet (Setaria italica), can give better nutrition, improve livelihoods and offer a way to deal with climate change. Photo: Bioversity International
It’s been proven to work too. A study in the Kolli Hills region of India showed that by introducing mini-mills to local farmers in communities, harvesting the crop was successful, and education programmes helped promote its nutritional and economical value (Ravi et al., 2010). The study was run by the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation a few years ago. Successful programmes like these can now be implemented in other countries; the success of minor millets can now be enrolled in other countries.
One of the biggest problems as the world recognises the use of alternative crops in the global food supply will be accessing finance to help agricultural businesses export globally. There needs to be an increase in trade finance global facilities and alternative funders to help these companies grow and be successful, so global multidisciplinary collaboration is essential.
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