Role of wild edible plants in nutrition and culture

ATREE has been chronicling the use of wild edible plant species in the MM Hills region since 2009. ATREE researchers tried to contextualize what this resource —of wild edible plants— means for poor rural households of the Soliga and Lingayat communities. How the knowledge concerning WEP availability, seasonality, phenology, use and recipes is now part of traditional knowledge. And how agriculture intensification and economic development are undermining the importance of wild edible plants in food culture and nutritional security of these communities. Research shows that while WEPs do not bridge the existing gaps in nutrition, without them, this gap would be much wider... read more

Click here for poster on indigenous knowledge on wild leafy vegetables

Livelihood gains and ecological costs of NTFP dependence

ATREE examined the dependence of forest fringe communities on NTFPs, for subsistence and livelihoods, within contrasting human and ecological settings, in an effort to understand the ecological costs of harvesting NTFPs. The socio-economic study was conducted over MM Hills, BRT WLS and Rajiv Gandhi National Park in Nagarhole.

It was found that there were three likely constraints to achieving a win-win situation for conservation and harvest: Extent of dependence on NTFPs, indigenous ecological knowledge and market organization and pricing. Results showed that with increasing dependence on NTFPs, the percentage of the collectors that adopted ecologically friendly harvesting methods and prudent harvesting methods increased. Level of sustainable harvesting also depended on long-term or short-term approaches, as dictated by collective rights of the community, presence of contracted, outside collectors, as well as returns per unit of collection set by private contractors.

Study of lantana invasion at MM Hills

Lantana camara, a native of tropical and sub tropical America, is now considered as one of the ten worst weeds in the the world. Lantana is now found all over India, from the submontane regions of the outer Himalayas to the southernmost part of India.

Our research undertaking on the lanatana invasion was to map the distribution pattern of the invasive species so as to identify the spatial correlates facilitating their invasion and spread; study the consequences of lantana invasion on the biological diversity and ecosystem health and function; study the consequences of invasion on the productivity of the ecosystem and assess the socio-economic impacts of lantana invasion on local communities.

Conservation by substitution

One of the fallouts of the preliminary studies in 1999 was that in 2002, with the aim of addressing the issue of conservation of natural resources and enhancing livelihoods of communities dependent on these resources, ATREE developed a unique programme at MM Hills, which it called 'conservation by substitution'. After testing out methods by which to make the Lantana camara stempliable for practical use, ATREE encouraged the Soligas to use this locally available and abundant invasive weed as a substitute for the scarce bamboo. The objective was to provide some protection to the wild bamboo crop, rid the ecosystem of some population of lantana, and augment the income of the local population.

This skill building project has proven its value by the number of craftswomen and men trained, livelihoods enhanced and stabilized, and most importantly by the ease by which it may be usefully replicated in any part of the world.

Efforts are now on towards actively restoring native plant diversity, in association with local forest departments in lantana-collected areas in MM Hills Reserve Forest.

Participatory and two-way learning

Researchers and Gram Sabha members from two hamlets conducted a transect walk across NTFP collection areas and documented plants that were used for subsistence as well as commercial purposes in scientific language and local parlance. Local birds sighted were also documented, with appropriate pronunciation guides for local names. The result is a collection of local flora and fauna that ATREE plans to convert into a bilingual field booklet that can be used to guide and sensitize religious tourist traffic (Rangaswamy temple, Pathere Madhesha and Sankamman temple) to forest and wildlife and also build awareness about not littering forest tracts.

Conservation and livelihoods programme

ATREE sees people's use of forest as an important part of conservation. Studies on the interface between natural resource management and livelihoods have established that a local community's right to resource or conservation area is a significant determining factor in the outcome of the conservation efforts. When access is granted in an ad hoc manner to all, including local communities, or withheld from the local, motivation for conservation is found to be low and can lead to indiscriminate resource use. On the other hand, where a local community has legal right to access resources, the assurance of sustained livelihood encourages sustainable harvest practices.
This is the basis of ATREE's Conservation and Livelihoods Programme, where the term livelihoods is interpreted in economic terms, plus accommodates elements that provide stability to livelihoods, or makes them less vulnerable: like tenure, legal right to access, coping mechanisms, alternative livelihood sources - especially in times of stress, presence or absence of representative community institutions and possibility of a more participative role.

Related reading

Livelihood gains and ecological costs of non-timber forest product dependence