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Underutilised crop species

Bitter melon and spiderplant

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is widely used in Asian cooking, which is probably why it is not on Biodiversity International’s list of neglected and underutilised species.
Bitter melon at a market in Kerala in India. Olaf Krüger/Lineair Bitter melon at a market in Kerala in India.

The vegetable is a key ingredient of gado gado, one of Indonesia’s five national dishes. Cooked with other vegetables, fermented tofu and peanut sauce the vegetarian classic (with egg) is a very healthy and nutritious meal.

In China, bitter melon is used in traditional Chinese medicine to help lower blood sugar, aid digestion and provide antioxidants and vitamin A for cell renewal. Because the plant is not used much in sub-Saharan Africa, however, it appears on the African Orphan Crops Consortium’s list of 100 forgotten crops. Bitter melon is an example of an underutilised crop plant that is not overlooked everywhere to the same degree.

Spiderplant (Cleome gynandra) is highly sensitive to extreme weather. Smallholder farmers need green fingers to grow this popular leafy vegetable, which is very popular in East Africa, in particular Kenya. However, while generally rich in iron (five to 10 %) and vitamins A, C and E, spiderplant can contain differing nutrient levels due to its high genetic diversity. Kenyan spiderplant varieties show a higher vitamin A content than variants in West Africa and Asia. The latter uses water more efficiently, and that is an increasingly important trait in the face of climate change and its resulting water shortages.

African Orphan Crops Consortium:
Biodiversity International:


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