NUCs: what are they and what is their value?

NUCs: what are they, what is their value?

Neglected-Underutilized Crop Species (NUCs) are foods that can be eaten, but few people do so because society is unaware of this possibility, which is why they are given this name. They are plants that can be eaten as a whole, or parts of them, and generally belong to the categories of: roots, tubers, bulbs, leaves, flowers or seeds, which are used for consumption purposes, or which, after preparation, are consumable (Terra & Viera, 2019).

Due to cultural differences and gastronomic diversity, NUCs may be conventional in one group and may not be in another, which is why it is important to analyse these categories in context.

In turn, the parts of Conventional Food Plants that are discarded are also classified as NUCs, i.e. when a food is consumed and the part of it that is discarded has food potential, this plant or the discarded part can be considered a NUC (Terra & Viera, 2019). This list includes foods such as sweet potato peelings, carrot peelings and others.

NUCs often have a negative connotation in society, public organisations and even research institutions. They are treated as weeds or plants that should be discarded, but in some cases, their nutritional value is superior to that of plants that are commonly consumed in society, which reveals the reductionism that exists in relation to these plants. In some situations, the homogenisation of international cuisine contributes to this (Aquino & Flores, 2021; Carvalho, 2013; Terra & Viera, 2019).

Importance of NUCs in situations of food insecurity

  • Locally available crops at very low cost (collection from the wild).
  • Contribute greatly to the nutritional situation of rural communities.
  • They have proven medicinal properties and are preserved in the oral tradition of rural communities.
  • Prevent the early and massive onset of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs).
  • Cure certain ailments, such as headaches, cramps, stomach aches and some fortify and tone the skin and strengthen male sexual performance.
  • They are accessible to low-income and economically vulnerable families.
  • These crops are the first resource available before external aid to rural communities vulnerable to disasters and climate change;

Challenges of NUCs for improving Food Insecurity

  • They compete with the new food environments and many rural communities depreciate their value.
  • There is still little political commitment to socialising them in communities.
  • Promotion and sensitisation could help improve acute malnutrition situations in some regions.

Examples of NUCs

Reference: TERRA, Simone Braga. VIERA, Carla Thais Rodrigues (2019). Unconventional Food Plants (PANCs): a survey in urban areas of Santana do Livramento, RS. Guarapuava (PR): Ambiência - Revista do Sector de Ciências Agrárias e Ambientais. v. 15. n. 1. pp. 112-130.