[Homestead] Wild foods and food security

Gene GeRue genegerue at ruralize.com
Tue Oct 5 10:58:49 EDT 2004

THE OVERSTORY #145--Wild Foods and Food Security
By Ian Scoones, Mary Melnyk and Jules N. Pretty

: --> Seasonal Use
: --> 'Famine' Foods
: --> Monitoring and Early Warning Systems
: --> Resource Access and Vulnerability
: --> Dietary Diversity and the Role of Wild Products
: --> The Impact of Social Change
: --> Comparisons with Domesticated Food Sources
: --> Malnutrition

EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the extremely large number of references cited
in this article (well over 200), the reader is referred to the
original source for cited literature. The citation numbers in this
excerpt text correspond to the numbers in the bibliography of the
original source. See below under Original Source for the citation and
information about where to purchase the book.
Food insecurity develops though several stages. These begin with
'coping,' which involves selling surplus animals and non-essential
possessions, borrowing from close kin, collecting wild foods, etc.
This stage can progress to 'asset disposal,' involving sale of
animals, outmigration, pledging or sale of farmland, and so on. The
last stage is 'non-coping' or starvation (or charity dependency)
(380; 389; 422; 451). Wild foods may be important at all stages.

The use of wild foods as a component of local response to increasing
food insecurity is widely documented (374; 375; 383; 400a; 413; 414;
416; 417; 440; 441). 'Famine foods' include wild vegetables, berries,
nuts, fruits, insects, etc. In periods of limited food stress, such
foods may be eaten only occasionally and more often by children and
poorer sectors of society. However, in periods of heightened food
insecurity such foods may become widely consumed (386b; 387; 390;
418). For instance, in Java outputs from home gardens increase in
times of rice shortage (151a, b).
Wild foods are not only important to food security in extreme cases;
they often make up a portion of the diet in other times too (395;
396; 416). For instance, in Mali poorer households may combine the
use of porridge derived from Boscia senegalensis fruit with their
limited supplies of stored millet (421; 448). In northern Nigeria
leafy vegetables and other bush foods are collected as daily
supplements to relishes and soups (417). In Swaziland, a wide range
of wild foods are used; these increase with staple food shortages
(111-113). A similar pattern is shown in Ghana (375).
Having a diverse resource base with a range of different trees,
plants and insect species increases the options for maintaining food
security. Different products complement each other with seasonally
different patterns of availability, the potential for storage for
'hunger season' use or for use in times of extreme food stress (387;
412). In Venezuela and Colombia, Jessenia fruit is a protein
substitute when hunting and fishing returns are poor (177).
Recent work has demonstrated the strong linkages between forests,
trees and food security (394-399; 408). This is increasingly being
taken into account in the development of forest projects and
policies. However the role of wild foods in agricultural systems
under stress is less well documented and an acknowledgement of their
importance for food security has yet to influence mainstream thinking

--> Seasonal Use
The seasonal variability of wild food supply from different sources
influences the food acquisition strategies of pastoralists (378; 383;
444), agriculturalists (384; 439), fisherfolk and hunters (67; 429)
and hunter-gatherers (48; 49; 92-94; 216; 376) alike. Seasonal
variations in food intake from different wild sources have direct
effects on nutritional status (404; 410 for Bangladesh; 405; 406 for
Mali; 409 for Ghana; 430 for Zaire).
The seasonal availability of wild foods will depend on the patterns
of fruiting, leaf production and population cycles of the species
harvested. Complex plant phenologies may result in uncertain
availabilities of foods (402 for beechnuts). In temperate climates,
oak (Quercus spp) and beech (Fagus sylvatica) trees produce rich
fruits harvests at a frequency partly determined by temperature -
every 3-4 years in warmer countries and every 7-8 in cooler (601).
During the medieval warm epoch (AD 950-1300), people relied heavily
on pigs which in turn fed on the abundant tree fruits. Insect or
larvae availability is often associated with the early rainy season
(140; 430). Seasonal complementarities between food sources is a
feature of a diverse wild food base (431 for south west Tanzania).
In the miombo woodlands of Tanzania, a few tree species provide food
for the Sandawe throughout the year (425). In Zimbabwe, indigenous
wild fruits seasonally complement exotic fruit trees as food sources
in the communal areas, with indigenous trees providing an important
dry season supplement (663). Wild foods that produce at times when
other foods are in short supply are particularly important. In
dryland farming areas of north India, Zizyphus spp. fruits provide
food between February and April, when other foods are scarce (558).
Similarly, locust bean (Parkia biocor) provides dry season food in
West Africa where it is prepared into the fermented dawa-dawa dish
(385). In the Kalahari, the Basarwa use nuts of the Mongongo tree
(Ricinodendron rautanenii) as a dry season staple food (415). When
food is short in Bhutan, farmers gather wild avocadoes, bamboo
shoots, orchids and mushrooms, as well as giant wild yams that grow
to more than 1 metre in length (401a).
Some wild foods can be harvested all year round. For instance the
products of the oil palm (Elaeis guineesis) are an important part of
the West African diet (665), as are foods derived from the sago palm
(Metroxylon sp.) for people in SE Asia and Oceania (162). Many wild
foods can be collected and stored for later use. Wild grass grains
are stored along with crops (273), nuts and berries can be processed
and stored, wild vegetable leaves may be dried (79; 86; 426) and
insects or wild meat can be preserved for later consumption (170).

--> 'Famine' Foods
Historically wild foods have been an important component of local
coping strategies at times of severe food shortage. Documentation of
'famines' in Malawi (449), Zimbabwe (411), Sudan (392; 443), northern
Nigeria (424; 452), Ethiopia (434) and India (379; 432; 436; 441)
shows the importance of wild foods in sustaining livelihoods. Such
food sources remain important in many areas today, particularly for
those with few direct or exchange entitlements.
In the Bihar famine in India during 1965-6 severely affected villages
were found to be eating a lot of wild vegetable leaves (401b; 416).
In Britain, the famine caused by the rains of 1314-16 that killed
10-15% population was more severe than previous famines because of
the reduced availability of wild resources following agricultural
expansion (601). But those resources that did exist were crucial for
survival -- even the king ate the bark of trees. In the 1974-5 famine
in Bangladesh a range of wild foods proved important in people's
coping strategies (433). In the 1973 famine in Sudan, the Berti of
western Sudan collected wild grass seeds and survived off these
(407). This pattern was repeated in the 1984-5 famine where grass
seeds and tree fruits (notably Boscia senegalensis) were collected in
order to survive (10; 392). A similar pattern is reported in Wollo,
Ethiopia where leafy plants, plants with seeds, berries, fruits and
roots were incorporated into the diet during the food shortages
during the 1980s (434). In the Senegalese Ferlo, Grewia bicolor fibre
and Combretum aculeatum seeds are consumed only in extreme conditions
(377). In extreme cases, wild foods may be the only food available.
For instance, 41% of the Karimoja population in Uganda was subsisting
off wild weeds and bush fruits and seeds during the famine of 1980

--> Monitoring and Early Warning Systems
Monitoring the use of such foods has been suggested as a possible
local level 'early warning' indicator of impending famine (384; 392;
420; 451). The increased rate of collection of wild foods generally
precedes large-scale asset disposal or migration. Compared with
direct measurement of food consumption or height/weight
relationships, a wild food indicator may prove easier information to
collect. But this needs a greater understanding of indigenous
responses to food insecurity (400a-d), together with the evolution
locally specific drought monitoring strategies.

--> Resource Access and Vulnerability
Reduced access to wild food resources increases vulnerability,
particularly of poorer groups, women and children (386b; 445). But
changes in access to common property resource land, shifts in tenure
systems and reduced diversity of wild foods due to environmental
change may reduce the supply of such foods to vulnerable groups. In
many cases, such changes in land resource productivity and access
have adversely affected the food security of vulnerable groups.
However other changes may occur to compensate for the loss of wild
food resources. Increased access to alternative food sources in
drought (food aid, commercial supplies etc) may mean that wild foods
are becoming less significant in famine coping strategies in many
areas. In Botswana, the commercialisation of food product markets,
combined with the provision of food relief has meant the decline in
use of wild food products in times of food shortage (382). Similarly,
in India wild food collection has significantly declined as a
response to food scarcity when use is compared between the 1965-6
famine and 1987 (432). This may be due to the improvement of food
distribution and supply systems in India over the past 20 years.
Improved food marketing and distribution systems are important
components of ensuring household food security, along with safety
nets of food relief in serious situations. However, reliance on the
market and social welfare mechanisms of the state may be insufficient
for the very poor and vulnerable groups in society. For them, the
hidden harvest of emergency food will remain important in many areas.

Wild foods are a part of rural people's diets not only during periods
of food shortages, but also on a daily basis (90; 396; 398; 400a;
466; 490; 491; 493, 494; 545). Most dietary studies emphasize the
value of calorific intake from staples. However, the amounts of wild
foods consumed, their frequencies of consumption as well as their
nutrient contents have also been explored (301, 316, 459, 462, 465,
466, 493, 504, 556). It is this daily consumption of wild products
which contributes to overall nutritional well being. Game and fish
are major sources of protein and fat, while wild vegetables, fruits
and seeds supply minerals, vitamins and fats. Even wild flowers, such
as Fernaldia pandurata of Central America, are eaten (883). A range
of studies provide evidence for the every day use of wild products as
side dishes or snack foods and sometimes as replacements for staples.
The chemical composition of some wild food sources has also been
analysed demonstrating their nutritional significance (458; 467; 473;
475; 480; 481; 492; 507; 512; 516; 517; 529; 532; 534; 542; 559; 561;

--> Dietary Diversity and the Role of Wild Products
It is access to a wide range of products and the resulting dietary
diversity that contributes to nutritional well being (398; 497; 498;
500; 508; 518; 526; 613). Better nutritional status is associated
with proximity to forests or the presence of a home gardens or
orchards (152; 493; 509; 545; 551; 613). An increase in the
production of fruits and vegetables in Mexico helped to improve the
nutritional status of villagers (502). In a study of two different
ecological regions, in southern Zimbabwe, it was found that families
in the zone in which species diversity was greater had a more
balanced diet during the dry season (172). Dietary diversity is also
crucial as these various nutrients interact with one another within
the body. For example, fats enhance the absorption of vitamins A, D,
and E (398; 399) or oxalic acid found in leafy vegetables may inhibit
absorption of calcium (541). Non-dietary modifiers and
anti-nutritional factors may also affect the nutritional impact of
wild foods (505; 561).
The appearance of wild foods is seasonal for many products (140; 152;
504). Their presence may coincide during times of food shortages, but
their harvesting can also reflect the flexibility of farmers'
procurement strategies which take advantage of the natural abundance
of these species (518). In Newfoundland, for example, the plural
economy of households comprises a mix of hunting and fishing with
potato and vegetable cultivation. When the weather inhibits
cultivation, it brings the cod close to the shore; when disturbs fish
movements, it favours farming (429).

--> The Impact of Social Change
The collection of wild foods, however, appears to be diminishing as
populations grow, with decreasing access to collection sites, and
with more people participating in the cash economy (495, 509).
Commercial foods and drinks are sometimes held in greater esteem than
wild food equivalents which may be viewed as items only for
consumption by the poor (429, 504, 533, 542). Likewise, new aversions
may be adopted, for instance, the Yukpa no longer consume insects as
regularly as in the past (356). As the daily activities of
individuals change, so too does their knowledge of wild products
plants. In Swaziland, now that young men spend more time working for
wages rather than herding, they no longer recognise as many plants as
other local people (111-113).
Dietary change is often associated with social upheavals caused by
natural disasters or forced movements of populations (see 374-452 for
literature on wild foods and drought/food security; 479; 484; 520;
523; 535; 557; 562; 564). Resettlement or refugee migrations often
necessitate adaptations to a changed food base (456; 501; 554).
A range of wild animals are important in the nutrition of
agriculturalists, pastoralists and forest dwellers. It is often small
game (rodents, monkeys, small buck) that are nutritionally the most
significant. Among the Amahuaca swidden cultivators of Peru, 40% of
their food was obtained from hunting (181). In Botswana, all the meat
consumed by bushmen was wild, while 80% of all meat consumed by
livestock owners was wild (301).

--> Comparisons with Domesticated Food Sources
When the nutrient contents of wild foods are compared with cultivated
foods, there is of course great variability. Some wild animals such
as capybara and iguana (Lacerta iguana) can have similar protein, fat
and energy contents as pigs, cattle and chickens (299). Other
species, for example of ungulates, may have leaner meat and less fat
(316; 534). Ants, grubs and caterpillars have similar energy, protein
and fat contents as pork sausage and beef liver (54). Over 1,300
insects have been classified as edible (546, 547) and are sources of
protein and fat (152; 487, 504, 545). Some insects can even have a
higher iron and protein content than fish (152). During the rainy
season, insects contribute 12% of the total animal protein to the
diets of men and 26% to women of the Tukanoan Indians of Colombia
(487). Children are often collectors (485). If game is in short
supply, insects can substitute proteins and fats (49; 487). An
important consideration is that wild game can have greater production
efficiencies than domestic livestock. For example, the capybara is
3.5 times more efficient at converting food to meat than cattle (316;
354). Also such wild species adapted to the local environments are
often better able to resist diseases.
Adults and children frequently consume leafy vegetables as a side
dish. These vegetables are often wild or a weed of agriculture (148;
175; 476, 486, 494, 504, 516, 528, 531, 541, 528, 533).
Nutritionally, they are high in protein, calcium, vitamin A and iron
(494, 504, 510, 521, 522, 543,559, 563). Leafy vegetables, rich in
lysine, are perfect complements to lysine-deficient maize (470, 471,
514, 541). Wild yams are often staples (48, 475, 504). Fruits are
usually snacks consumed between meals or when out walking (48; 49;
111-113; 541). They are viewed mainly as children's foods (9; 170;
see 608-630). The fruit of cultivated Bactris gasipaes is a source of
protein and carbohydrates and can produce more macronutrients per
hectare than maize (888). The mongongo (Ricinodendron rautanenii)
wild fruit tree is a staple in the diet of the !Kung San bushmen
(92-94; 566). Its fruits and kernels are sources of calories, protein
and minerals. Other tree fruits are also known to be important for
human nutrition (eg. 459; 465; 468; 472; 473; 513; 517; 529; 536;
537; 558; 564).
Wild plants can have higher fat, protein, mineral and vitamin
contents than cultivated species
(464, 541). Wild grains may also be more nutritious than cultivated
varieties. The wild rice Zizania aquatica has higher concentrations
of protein, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and vitamins Bl and B2
than cultivated Oryza sativa (532). The wild rice bean (Vigna minima)
was also found to be of equal or greater nutritional value than the
cultivated species (V. umbellata).
In Africa, the oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis, is often protected
and is an important source of fat, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin A
throughout the year (457, 480, 504). Jessenia spp. are important
oilseeds in South America providing oil and protein. The quality of
this oil and protein is comparable to olive oil and animal protein
(457, 888). Similarly, the jojoba plant (548) and other plants from
arid lands (560) have potential for oil production. The wild sago
palm (Metroxylon spp.) is a staple in parts of Southeast Asia (454;
474). In Northern Africa, a main source of fat is derived from shea
butter produced form the kernels of Vitellaria paradoxa or
Butyrospermum, spp. (673).

--> Malnutrition
Despite this great diversity and supply of nutrient-rich foods,
malnutrition is commonplace in the Third World. Protein-energy
malnutrition in which calories from staples and/or the body's amino
acid building blocks from proteins are lacking is the most widespread
form (506; 507; 544; 552; 553). Other deficiencies prevalent include
iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B2, iron, calcium and fat (533; 551; 613).
Vitamin A deficiency can result in blindness and affects
approximately 6 million children in the world (496). Children and
pregnant and lactating women are the most vulnerable to deficiencies.
To what extent can wild foods prevent such deficiencies? Can protein
or energy-rich wild foods help to alleviate malnutrition? In light of
the higher incidence of malnutrition among children, their foraging
activities provide essential supplies of fats and proteins from
insects and of vitamins and minerals from plants and fruits. Specific
plants may even be able to improve milk production of mothers.
The presence of parasitic diseases and other illnesses means it is
often difficult to link malnutrition to the lack of consumption of a
specific food. Few such studies have been attempted. A notable
exception is the increased incidence of goitre and cretinism among
the Azanade of Central Africa as a result of the replacement of the
home-produced ash salt from wild plants with purchased
iodine-deficient salts (545). Benefits have occurred after dietary
change. In one example in India, the incidence of vitamin A
deficiency declined in children following the increased consumption
of mangoes (489). Similar changes occurred in Brazil after the
increased consumption of buriti fruits (Mauritia vinifera) whose oil
fraction which is also high in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin
A (525).

There is a clear need to incorporate nutritional and dietary concerns
into forestry and agricultural plans. Greater linkages in studies
could be made between the nutrient content of wild foods, dietary
surveys of their consumption and anthropometric assessments. Wild
foods often provide key supplements to the main diet and are of great
nutritional importance. Without the understanding of the
complementarities between staple crop foods and wild food intake,
agricultural planning will continue to be dominated by major crops to
the exclusion of other, often nutritionally very important, wild
products (466; 488; 490; 491; 499; 539; 540).

Due to the extremely large number of references cited in this article
(well over 200), the reader is referred to the original source for
cited literature. The citation numbers in the text correspond to the
numbers in the bibliography of the original source. See below under
Original Source for the citation and information about where to
purchase the book.

This article is excerpted with the generous permission of the
publisher and authors from:
Scoones, I., M. Melnyk and J. Pretty. 1992. The Hidden Harvest: Wild
Foods and Agricultural Systems, A Literature Review and Annotated
Bibliography. IIED, London.
To order this publication online, visit
http://www.iied.org/sarl/pubs/hidharvest.html or contact:
P.O. Box 119
Telephone: +44 1438 748 111
Fax: +44 1438 748 844
Email: customerservices at earthprint.com

This article was authored by Ian Scoones, Mary Melnyk and Jules N.
Pretty, and published by the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural
Livelihoods (SARL) Programme of the International Institute for
Environment and Development (IIED). The SARL Programme seeks to
promote sustainable, equitable, decentralised agri-food systems based
on local diversity and participatory democracy, thereby contributing
to improved livelihoods and entitlements, poverty reduction, and
long-term ecological and economic sustainability. By working to
develop more effective and equitable forms of agriculture and natural
resource management, the SARL Programme helps different interest
groups to understand trade-offs relating to their livelihood
strategies, identify common ground, and negotiate pathways to
positive actions that support rural regeneration.
Established in 1986, the aim of the SARL Programme was to provide key
policy makers, project designers, and rural development practitioners
with concepts, tools, and methods to put into practice the challenges
facing sustainable agricultural development. Since then, the SARL
approach has evolved, and has emerged out of a growing recognition
that sustainable agriculture and rural development cannot be treated
in isolation from broader ecological, economic, social, and political
processes. It is these broader processes, particularly
counterproductive and inappropriate policies, and weak and
ineffective institutions, which are limiting the spread of
sustainable agriculture and the regeneration of rural economies.
Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods Programme
International Institute for Environment and Development
3 Endsleigh Street
London WC1H 0DD
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7388-2117; Fax: +44 (0)20 7388-2826
Email: sustag at iied.org
Web site: http://www.iied.org/sarl/index.html

Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor (IKDM) serves those
with an interest in the role of indigenous knowledge in
participatory approaches to sustainable development:
Non-wood News is an information-rich newsletter produced by FAO's
Wood and Non-wood Products Utilization Branch, providing readers
with current information on nontimber forest products and their
contribution to the sustainable development of the world's forest
resources: http://www.fao.org/forestry/FOP/FOPW/NWFP/newsle-e.stm
Canadian International Development Agency's "Forests and Food
Security": http://www.rcfa-cfan.org/english/issues.5.html
FAO's Gender and Food Security page:
Eldis Food Security Resource Guide: http://www.eldis.org/food/
Biodiversity Support Programme: http://www.BSPonline.org/

The Overstory #141--Edible Leaves
The Overstory #139--"Hungry season" food from the forests
The Overstory #136--Underutilised Indigenous Fruit Trees
The Overstory #128--Wild Foods
The Overstory #127--Food Security
The Overstory #117--Between Wildcrafting and Monocultures
The Overstory #109--Cultural Landscapes
The Overstory #106--Hidden Bounty of the Urban Forest
The Overstory #105--Complex Agroforests
The Overstory #93--Trees, Forests and Sacred Groves
The Overstory #77--Tropical Forest Conservation
The Overstory #76--Ethnoforestry
The Overstory #71--Nontimber Forest Products (temperate)
The Overstory #64--Homegardens
The Overstory #56--Integrating Understory and Tree Crops
The Overstory #53--Nontimber Forest Products--An Introduction
The Overstory #51--Protecting and Expanding Traditional Agroforests in the

Publisher: Permanent Agriculture Resources
Editor: Craig R. Elevitch
The Overstory is distributed by Agroforestry Net, Inc., a nonprofit
501(c)(3) organization based in Hawaii.
Address: P.O. Box 428, Holualoa, Hawaii 96725 USA
Email: overstory at agroforestry.net ; Web site:
Past editions of The Overstory: http://www.overstory.org
This publication is Copyright 2004 Permanent Agriculture Resources.
All Rights Reserved Worldwide. For Conditions of Use please contact
overstory at agroforestry.net or write to Agroforestry Net, Inc. at the
address above.
This journal is designed to provide agricultural information, but
is sent with the understanding that the editors and publishers are
not engaged in rendering consultation. If expert assistance is
required, the services of a professional should be sought.

To SUBSCRIBE please send an e-mail to
<overstory at agroforestry.net> with the subject "subscribe"
and in the body of the message:
1) your name
2) e-mail address
3) organization, brief project description, or your interest
in agroforestry
4) your location (city, state, country)
Any other information about yourself that you would like to
include is welcome, as it helps us tailor the journal to
your needs.
To UNSUBSCRIBE please send us an e-mail with your name and
the e-mail address of your subscription.
**Your information is secure -- We will never sell, give or
distribute your address or subscription information to any
third party without your prior consent.**

More information about the Homestead mailing list