Less visible but yet vital for human health: nutrient-dense indigenous vegetables and their need for urgent promotion in balanced diets.
This paper describes the importance of indigenous vegetables in traditional food systems with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. Many indigenous vegetables are nutrient dense, may require only low external inputs and currently cope well with abiotic and biotic stresses if grown on a small-scale and in mixed cropping systems. To ensure the food and nutritional security of current and future generations it is an imperative to collect and conserve the full diversity of indigenous vegetable species and other important food crops. AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center's genebank holds close to 60 000 accessions of vegetable germplasm out of which 12 000 accessions belong to some 200 species of indigenous vegetables which have recognized potential for incorporation into resilient cropping systems. Despite the known importance of indigenous vegetables in alleviating malnutrition and poverty, many remain underexploited due to a lack of information on their use, health benefits, field performance, input requirements and marketing potential. A lack of cultivars or lines for widespread distribution and uncertainty about how these plants can fit into common production systems further curtail their use. Project activities of AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center and its partners focus on the rescue, improved conservation, and seed increase of promising lines, cultivar trials and participatory evaluation of selected accessions, and capacity building in germplasm management. Limited investment in research and development in vegetables, particularly indigenous ones, is a constraining factor in further harnessing their potential for sustainable development.