Neglected and underused crops are plant species with a long history of mainly local production and having strong links to the cultural heritage of their places of origin.
They have been used for centuries or even millennia for their food, therapeutic and medicinal properties, but have been reduced in importance over time and have been ‘neglected’ by agricultural researchers, food scientists and policymakers. They are ‘underutilized‘ with reference to their potential owing to unrecognized nutritional value, poor consumer awareness and reputation of “famine” food or “poor people’s food”. Infact, the severe genetic erosion of their genepools has resulted in them being termed as ‘lost’ or ‘orphaned’ crops.
One such NUC is the Kachri (other names are Chibad, Sane and Kaachar in various parts of North India) that grows wild in the vast deserts of Rajasthan and like a weed in Punjab. Traditionally used either as pickles, chutney or everyday subzi, it also served as a great nibble for kids plucking it right off the vine. The fact that readymade dips, ketchups and sauces in fancy packaging have replaced our native pickles and chutney is no less than a tragedy. Once an important part of North Indian meals, the present ‘modern’ and ‘fast moving generation’ remains oblivious to its existence, much less its benefits. The Kachri, like many other NUC is a wonderful resource of nutrients – high in protein, calcium and omega-3, also rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and saponins. It acts as a coolant for people living in the harsh arid areas of North-Western India, where it is hard to grow conventional vegetables.
The need of the hour is to encourage cultivation of various NUCs and get them back in our diets. The cross – sectoral benefits of doing so are –
- Nutrition – NUCs have known medicinal and therapeutic properties and have been used by the local people to cure various diseases. They have been used as curative foods in the traditional Indian Medicine and Ayurveda
- Economy – Improves income generation for small and medium- scale farmers
- Climate smart – They adapt to marginal soil and climate conditions. Owing to their potential for dietary diversification, they can contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goal, SDG15 (halt biodiversity loss)
- Zero hunger – By reducing our dependency on only major crops for food, they can contribute to the second UN Sustainable Development Goal, SDG2 (end hunger, achieve food security)
A compilation of few NUCs of India based on their origin-