An urgent call for decision makers to raise awareness of the nutritionally-dense and climate-resilient benefits of neglected and underutilized species (NUS) has been made in a book published this month by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
The book, Future Smart Foods was co-edited by Dr Xuan Li, UNFAO and The University of Western Australia’s Hackett Professor of Agriculture Kadambot Siddique provides ten key recommendations for an enabling environment for promoting Future Smart Foods.
NUS are crops to which little or no attention is paid by agricultural researchers, plant breeders and policy makers. They are wild or semi-domesticated varieties that are not typically traded as commodities. To be considered a Future Smart Food, NUS must be nutritionally dense, climate resilient, economically viable, and locally available and adaptable.
FAO Director-General Dr Jose Graziano da Silva said the FAO considers that NUS have a central role to play in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, and that they are currently being overlooked.
“Today, just 103 out of the nearly 30,000 edible plant species worldwide provide up to 90 percent of the calories in the human diet, and 60 percent of the world’s caloric intake comes from just a few staples such as maize, rice, wheat, soybean and potato,” Dr Graziano da Silva said.
“It is now time to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge we have accumulated on neglected and underutilized species so we can develop more sustainable, nutrition-dense, climate-resilient and diversified food systems.”
Scoping and prioritisation studies on Future Smart Foods in eight countries including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, and West Bengal in India are covered in the book.
Professor Kadambot Siddique, Director of UWA’s Institute of Agriculture says the Asia-Pacific region is home to most of the world’s undernourished people (490 million) and the issues manifest in both the demand and the supply side.
“There are two significant gaps in the agriculture and food systems – a production gap where agricultural production must increase by at least 50 percent globally to meet food demand by 2050; and a nutrition gap between what foods are grown, and what foods are needed for a healthy diet,” Professor Siddique said.
“Future Smart Foods can close this gap because they generally do not require high inputs and can be grown on marginal and degraded lands while contributing to increased agricultural production, crop diversification and environmental sustainability. In turn, food and nutritional security are improved.”
The book, Future Smart Foods: Rediscovering hidden treasures of neglected and underutilized species for Zero Hunger in Asia was compiled by the FAO together with the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) and is available online. Professor Siddique undertook this project during his UNFAO Special Ambassadorship for the International Year of Pulses (2016). He continues to advocate for pulses which are an excellent example of a Future Smart Food that exhibits all four criteria.
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (The UWA Institute of Agriculture and School of Agriculture and Environment) (+61 8) 6488 7012 (+61 4) 11 155 396
Diana Boykett (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 3756 / (+61 4) 04 152 262