Tapping the Potential of Neglected and Underutilized Food Crops for Sustainable Nutrition Security in the Mountains of Pakistan and Nepal
Lipy Adhikari, Abid Hussain, Golam Rasul
Neglected and underutilized food crops (NUFCs) have high nutritional value, but their role in achieving nutrition security is not adequately understood, and they do not feature in food and nutrition policies and programs of the countries of the Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. Drawing examples from Pakistan and Nepal, this study investigates the importance of NUFCs in achieving nutrition security in the mountains and identifies key underlying reasons for the decline in their cultivation and
... e. The study found that the prevalence of malnutrition is significantly higher in the mountains than nationally in both Pakistan and Nepal and identifies the decline in the cultivation and use of micronutrient-rich NUFCs as one of the key reasons for this. The deterioration of local food systems, changing food habits, lack of knowledge about the cultivation, use and nutritional value of NUFCs and lack of attention to NUFCs in programs and policies are the key reasons for the abandoning of NUFCs by mountain communities. There is an urgent need to mainstream these crops into national programs and policies and to integrate them into local food systems. This will not only improve the nutrition security of mountain areas, but also biodiversity and local mountain economies. Nutrition is more important for mountain people in view of the nature of their work, the difficult topography in which they live and the required level of energy needed to perform their daily tasks. However, studies conducted in the countries of the HKH [5, 8] have revealed that the prevalence of undernutrition is comparatively higher in mountain areas than nationally. The high prevalence of undernutrition in the mountains is attributed to poverty, high illiteracy rates among mothers, dietary deficiencies, poor maternal and child health and nutrition, high morbidity rates and the low micronutrient (especially iodine and zinc) content of food  . Of the thousands of known plant species, only 120 are cultivated for human food, and only nine supply over 75% of the global plant-derived energy. Three crops, namely, wheat, rice and maize, account for more than half of dietary energy supply [9, 10] . This implies that more than one hundred edible plant species are neglected or underutilized for their nutritional value. In the HKH region, mountains are agro-ecologically suitable for the cultivation of traditional food crops, such as barley, millets, sorghum, buckwheat, beans, gram and other pulses, taro, yam, amala and jammun, a vast range of wild vegetables and fruit and medicinal plants [11, 12] , which are important sources of micronutrients  . However, agricultural intensification, which is increasingly relying on a narrow range of crops  , has resulted in a decline in the cultivation of traditional food crops and the underutilization of this nutritionally-valuable food source. This has led to low dietary diversity and, ultimately, a higher prevalence of malnutrition  in the mountains, and globally. In the HKH region, in the past, household food baskets consisted of many different edible plant species. However, due to changes in local food systems, food habits, policy priorities and several other factors, today, traditional crops are largely neglected and underutilized. The neglected and underutilized food crops (NUFCs) in the HKH are mainly millets, sorghum, buckwheat, barley, beans, black gram, horse crop, taro, yam, amala and jammun [11, 12] . NUFCs, which are part of a larger biodiversity portfolio, were once more popular, but today are neglected by the people  . These crops continue to be grown, managed and collected in marginal localities because of their usefulness for local populations  .