Proposal eyes underutilised Latin American crops for expanding Kerala’s food basket

University of Kerala centre proposes ‘survey, documentation and collection of neglected and underutilised edible plants’ of Latin America that can be domesticated in Kerala

January 01, 2023 08:53 pm | Updated 08:53 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Many underutilised and less-known crops found in the Latin American countries could hold promise for Kerala in the context of food security and climate change, according to the Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC) under the Department of Botany, University of Kerala.

The CBC has proposed a project for the ‘survey, documentation and collection of neglected and underutilised edible plants’ of Latin America that can be domesticated in the southern State.

The diverse agro-ecological regions of Latin America boasts rich crop diversity, although many remain underutilised. In the context of sustainable farming, climate change and food security, these plants are priceless genetic resources as food crops of the future, A. Gangaprasad, director of CBC and professor of the Department of Botany, said.  

The CBC has placed its proposal before the Centre for Latin American Studies (CLAS), newly opened by the University of Kerala for exploring themes, agriculture being one of them, relevant to both Kerala and the Latin American region.

Latin American countries are home to many cereals and pseudo-cereals, fruits, tubers, vegetables and legumes, the CBC noted. Crops such as potato, tomato, cashew, maize and cassava (tapioca) have already gained global acceptance. In recent years, Indians have also become better acquainted with plants like chia and quinoa, now grown in States like Karnataka.

The CBC draws attention to a large variety of plants like cupuazu (Theobroma grandiflorum), quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius) and feijoa (Acca sellowiana) that could further expand Kerala’s food basket of the future through proper research and domestication.

In the matter of nutritional value, many underutilised crop species have similar or even a higher value compared to ‘global crops.’ They can act as a buffer against the impacts of climate change and depletions in agricultural biodiversity, according to the CBC proposal. ‘‘Humans rely primarily on a small set of crops, roughly 20 or so, although about 15,000 are considered edible,’‘ Dr. Gangaprasad said.

Apart from their importance in sustainable farming, neglected and underutilised crop genetic resources also offer new business opportunities for farmers that can be tapped through better production and marketing strategies, according to the CBC.

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