Frontiers in Plant Science
For addressing potential food shortages, a fundamental tradeoff exists between investing more resources to increasing productivity of existing crops, as opposed to increasing crop diversity by incorporating more species. We explore ways to use local plants as food resources and the potential to promote food diversity and agricultural resilience. We discuss how use of local plants and the practice of local agriculture can contribute to ongoing adaptability in times of global change. Most food crops are now produced, transported, and consumed long distances from their homelands of origin. At the same time, research and practices are directed primarily at improving the productivity of a small number of existing crops that form the cornerstone of a global food economy, rather than to increasing crop diversity. The result is a loss of agro-biodiversity, leading to a food industry that is more susceptible to abiotic and biotic stressors, and more at risk of catastrophic losses. Humans cultivate only about 150 of an estimated 30,000 edible plant species worldwide, with only 30 plant species comprising the vast majority of our diets. To some extent, these practices explain the food disparity among human populations, where nearly 1 billion people suffer insufficient nutrition and 2 billion people are obese or overweight. Commercial uses of new crops and wild plants of local origin have the potential to diversify global food production and better enable local adaptation to the diverse environments humans inhabit. We discuss the advantages, obstacles, and risks of using local plants. We also describe a case study—the missed opportunity to produce pine nuts commercially in the Western United States. We discuss the potential consequences of using local pine nuts rather than importing them overseas. Finally, we provide a list of edible native plants, and synthesize the state of research concerning the potential and challenges in using them for food production. The goal of our synthesis is to support more local food production using native plants in an ecologically sustainable manner.
Shelef O, Weisberg PJ and Provenza FD (2017) The Value of Native Plants and Local Production in an Era of Global Agriculture. Front. Plant Sci. 8:2069. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.02069