Written by Mekong Institute
Underutilized crops including wild plants for foods represent a rich portfolio of crop genetic resources that are particularly overlooked in the agricultural development agenda. They show significant potential to enhance food security, improve nutrition, diversify income options and recover marginal lands into food production, which strengthen social, economic growth, and ecological services. However, their role is often ignored or underestimated by crops researchers, planners and policy makers, donor agencies, public and private investors, extension services and economists. Therefore, reintroduction, management and promotion of underutilized crops are highly important for future food security, agricultural diversification and economic growth. To fulfill these gaps, crop surveys, including information on ethnobotany and socioeconomics were done together, and the threats and the strategies to safeguard them were identified. There were 50 species of underutilized crops and 32 species of wild food plants documented and their roles in Trang Teh and Romonea were described in terms of food security and economic growth opportunities. Many underutilized crops as well as wild food plants still remain important to these two local communities; however, farmers may no longer be able to grow their own traditional varieties and landraces due to changing climate as shown by recent droughts, pest attacks and crop failure. Together, biodiversity status in the research areas has decreased due to fire, pests and diseases, lumbering, mining encroachment, economic land concession and infrastructure development. Therefore, the conservation of plant genetic resources (PGR) will attempt to provide the background, current research, some approaches to develop potential strategies and to conserve underutilized crops which are the keys for sustainable food security and poverty alleviation.