Collaborative Crop Research Program The McKnight Foundation
CCRP topic:
Neglected "orphan" crops

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There is some debate over the meaning of the terms orphan, neglected and underutilized crops. The term orphan is usually used to describe crops that receive little scientific research or funding despite their significance for food security in the world's poorest regions (Naylor et al. 2004, citation below).

Two other useful definitions are those of the International Plant Genetic Resource Institute for underutilized and neglected crops:

"Neglected crops are those grown primarily in their centres of origin or centres of diversity by traditional farmers, where they are still important for the subsistence of local communities. Some species may be globally distributed, but tend to occupy special niches in the local ecology and in production and consumption systems. While these crops continue to be maintained by socio-cultural preferences and use practices, they remain inadequately characterized and neglected by research and conservation." (Eyzaguirre et al., 1999, cited in Padulosi et al, link to paper below).

"Many underutilized crops were once more widely grown but are today falling into disuse for a variety of agronomic, genetic, economic and cultural factors. Farmers and consumers are using these crops less because they are in some way not competitive with other crop species in the same agricultural environment. The general decline of these crops may erode the genetic base and preventing the use of distinctive useful traits in crop adaptation and improvement."

Relevant literature

Available on the Internet
There is a considerable amount of published material on the topic of neglected, orphan and underutilized crops. We provide some key papers, reports and books on the subject, as well as links to sites that have excellent, updated bibliographies and other online publications.

Potential roles of biotechnology in orphan crop improvement

  • Website: Stanford University
  • Reference: Naylor, R. L., W. P. Falcon, R. M. Goodman, M. M. Jahn, T. Sengooba, H. Tefera and R.J. Nelson. 2004. Biotechnology in the developing world: a case for increased investments in orphan crops. Food Policy 29: 15-44.

Key issues

  • Website: Neglected and underutilized crops
  • Reference: Padulosi, S, Hodgkin T, Williams J.T. and N. Haq. 2000. Underutilized crops: trends, challenges and opportunities in the 21st Century.

Global research report

  • Website: IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute)
  • Reference: Williams, J.T. and N. Haq. 2002. Global Research on Underutilized Crops.
  • Description: "This report has been produced to provide a succinct overview of the global research activities on underutilized crops. It is aimed at policy-makers, funding agencies and research administrators but it is hoped that it will also be of use to the scientific community. The report results from a request from a workshop convened by the Genetic Resources Policy Committee for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research."

Role of public sector

  • Website: ODI (Overseas Development Institute)
  • Reference: Blench, R. 1997. Neglected species, livelihoods and biodiversity in difficult areas: how should the public sector respond? ODI Natural Resources Perspectives, Number 23, 1997

Focus on underutilized crops

  • Website: New Agriculturalist
  • Reference: Focus on Underutilized Crops, November 2004.
  • Description: This online publication outlines some of the major issues related to underutilized crops, including limited markets and their significance to health and diversity, and then highlights several underutilized crops such as indigo and nangai nuts.

Book chapter from IPGRI: Conservation and use of underutilized crops: An Indian Perspective

  • Website: IPGRI
    Scroll down to Theme 8 and click on item #33.

Relevant links

International Plant Genetic Resources Institute's (IPGRI) Project Website on conserving and promoting the use of underutilized crops

  • Website: IPGRI
  • Description: This website has many resources, including a list of neglected or underutilized crops (location, common and botanical names), a search engine for publications on specific crops, an expert directory (also a search engine), an extensive bibliography and information on selected projects from IPGRI's portfolio of projects on underutilized crops. These projects focus on those crops that have high potential for increased use, are in danger of genetic erosion and/or have local significance in terms of food security, nutrition and income generation. . As of May 2006, the site had 72 publications available for download (mostly monographs on individual crop species).

Global Facilitation Unit for Under-Utilized Species

  • Website: Global Facilitation Unit for Under-Utilized Species
  • Description: "The Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species was created to ease and increase information and knowledge exchange in the field of underutilized and neglected species." It's a joint effort initiated by FAO, IFAD, IPGRI, ICUC and BMZ. The Unit's mandate is to focus on (1) Documentation, information and communication; (2) Policy analysis and advice to decision makers; (3) Public Awareness." The website includes information about specific species (papers, factsheets, conferences), funding and training opportunities and upcoming events.

International Center for Underutilised Crops (ICUC)

  • Website: ICUC
  • Description: This website provides factsheets on particular crops, new recipes, links to other organizations, recent papers and other materials on underutilized crops. The International Centre for Underutilised Crops (ICUC) was founded in 1992 and is a research, development and training organization. Staff provide knowledge and support for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate plant development.

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