Nepal is rich in biodiversity, as a result of its extreme variations in
altitude, ecology, farming systems and varied socio-cultural settings. Since
more than two-thirds of the workforce in Nepal is engaged in agriculture, and a
considerable percentage of the total population are living below the poverty
line, underutilized plant species in particular play a critical role in the
livelihoods of the poor.
For many centuries, Nepalese farmers had been growing several species of food plants including many varieties of millet, barley and buckwheat. During the past three decades, however, the publicsector-sponsored agricultural extension programme has been promoting almost exclusively the use of improved exotic varieties of major cereal crops, which is forcing the landraces and underutilized crops out of the picture.
The country is currently facing considerable development constraints, which is one of the principal impediments to the development of underutilized plant species; added to this is the ecological degradation of the hilly areas as a result of a rapid increase in population and the consequent need to produce more food, fodder and fuel, all leading to land over-exploitation.
The present study looks at the overall policy framework in the country and analyzes existing national policies that enable or inhibit the wider use of underutilized plant species for food and agriculture. In particular it attempts to identify the major constraints to exploiting the potential of these species as well as the challenges faced and provides suggested measures for action.