Neglected and Under-utilized Species for Food and Income Security in Marginal Environments
Several neglected and underutilized species, because of their resilience and natural adaptation to harsh growing conditions, can provide alternatives to the staple crops to sustain farm productivity in environments constrained by water scarcity, poor soil fertility and other such yield-limiting factors. Among the species native to or naturalized in the Middle East, Christ's thorn jujube, purslane, rocket, jute mallow and safflower have considerable value because of their tolerance to salinity and harsh climatic conditions. These species have significant potential for future food and income security in the region. Similarly, salt- and drought-tolerant non-native species such as leaf mustard, quinoa, salicornia, guar, amaranth and New Zealand spinach, which showed good adaptation in field trials under harsh conditions in the United Arab Emirates, are likely to be of value in providing costeffective and long-term solutions to problems of water shortage and increasing salinity of soil and water resources in the region. Besides their tolerance to abiotic stresses, all these species are nutritionally rich and can thus play a crucial role in combating vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies frequently experienced by inhabitants of marginal environments. Research to improve the productivity and value of these crops, and to encourage them to be more widely cultivated, would contribute to food, income and nutritional security in the Middle East, especially for smallholders living in marginal environments.