Neglected & Underutilized Species

Neglected & Underutilized Species

Although thousands of edible plant species have been cultivated and collected by humans throughout history, modern agriculture is dominated by just three staples - rice, maize and wheat and handful of other commodity crops. The bulk of research attention in the last century has been devoted to a very small number of species, which is reflected in increasingly homogeneous farming landscapes and diets around the globe. The crops overlooked by agricultural development are at risk of being lost as the knowledge on their use is progressively forgotten.

Neglected and underutilized species are those to which little attention is paid or which are entirely ignored by agricultural researchers, plant breeders and policymakers. They are wild or semi-domesticated varieties and non-timber forest species that are not typically traded as commodities. - Padulosi, Thompson and Rudebjer (2013)

Addressing Global Challenges with NUS

Broadening research and development attention to the 'neglected and underutilized species', or NUS for short, could be central in strengthening food security, alleviating poverty, and increasing the resilience and sustainability of farming systems. This is because:

  • Many NUS are adapted to marginal environments. They can thrive under low-input and stressful growing conditions that limit agricultural productivity around the world and will become more prevalent with climate change;
  • Many NUS are highly nutritious, such that they can contribute to healthier diets worldwide and particularly for the rural poor;
  • Some NUS have potential for development as novel consumer products to generate income for smallholder farmers and their communities;
  • NUS are typically embedded within local cultural traditions, such that their greater use could strengthen local identities and contribute to empower marginalized communities.

We are researching how to leverage these potentials to achieve food security and sustainability outcomes. Check out our Research section for more information on our work. Also check out our list of example neglected and underutilized species.

Infographic source: Bioversity International's 10-year Strategy 2014-2024. Data source: FAO 1997