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Himalayan foods: healthy and nutritious crop varieties

Amaranth grain in rural Nepal. Photo Credit: LI-BIRD/L.Lama

Read about 8 crops in the Nepal Himalayas that are better suited for harsh mountainous climates and can aid rural farmers in increasing yields and income while promoting healthy lifestyles.

Agricultural biodiversity is crucial to the food security of the Himalayan mountain regions of Nepal. Housing an estimated 38 micro ecosystems and as many as 35 different ethnic groups, the Himalayan range is a diverse region in terms of plant, animal, and human life. Rising rates of rural migration and changing rain and temperature patterns threaten this valuable array of diversity. Bioversity International in collaboration with partners is working to help ensure food security for smallholder farming communities in the Nepal Himalayas.

In this mountain region, where harsh conditions and extreme altitudes prevent the use of many standard crops, local communities use varieties adapted to the environment. This Bioversity International and partners' initiative identifies eight crop varieties that can adapt to the harsh environment, are naturally occurring and easy for local farmers to acquire and grow. These crops – amaranth, buckwheat, naked barley, proso millet, foxtail millet, finger millet, common bean, and high altitude rice – have the potential to be critical to the continued food security of these mountain communities. In the Jumla district, high altitude rice is cultivated at elevations of up to 3050m, allowing farmers to use land where staple crops have failed. Proso millet is cultivated at elevations as high as 3500m and has one of the lowest water requirements of any grain, allowing it to survive the drier mountain climate of the Himalayas.

Not only are these crops valuable from a stress-resistance and resilience perspective, but are also vital to nutritional well-being. Amaranth has been heralded as an energy food of the future, while buckwheat is rich in rutin, an instrumental substance in maintaining cardiovascular health. In isolated areas where subsistence farming is the dominant livelihood, the nutritional security these crops provide is key. With specific biological and nutritional properties each of these crops is critical not only to the local communities that grow and sell them, but also to shared genetic resources worldwide.

With these crops the mountainous landscape of the Nepal Himalayas can provide a rich source of agricultural biodiversity. By diversifying the crop species that farmers use, we can hope to increase yields, contribute to incomes in rural communities, and promote the marketing of these underutilized species.

Find out more about this work by downloading this detailed flyer on Himalayan foods