ATREE has been chronicling the use of wild edible plant species in the MM Hills region since 2009. The motivation for this study came through interactions with the community, which time and again returned to the subject of disappearing useful species. MM Hills, being a reserve forest area, communities have always had access to forest land. This too was useful in ATREE’s continuing perusal of the role of forests in the lives and livelihoods of forest dwelling communities. The image on the left shows informal meeting with Soliga community in Gorasane village, MM Hills.
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.
An inventory of wild plants that these communities have traditionally used lists a diverse 92 wild plants species, belonging to 68 genera, spread across 38 families. These include leaves, fruits and tubers. Plants from the Amaranthus, Cleome, Solanum and Dioscoria genera: annesoppu (Celosia argentea L.), kaddisoppu (Jasminum pubescens Willd.), sundekai (Solanum species), sodlihannu (Scutia myrtina(N. Burman) Kurz, J.), murkihannu (Buchanania lanzan Sprengel, J.) and noregenasu (Dioscorea pentaphylla L.) are particularly popular. These plants are collected from surrounding areas of natural forest, farm lands (where farmers often classify these plants as weeds), fallow lands, grazing lands, roadsides and backyards. A household typically uses 12 to 130 kg of wild plants in its diet per annum, using as many as 25 species collected from the wild per household. Grazers, away from home for the entire day, used to live off the land, on wild edible plants only.
Key findings are:
Wild edible plants play an important role during droughts and food shortages for rural agricultural households. Such plants are innately resistant and adaptive to micro climatic change such as low rainfall, high temperature etc., especially in comparison to introduced or exotic plant species. This has been proven in several ecology, conservation and restoration studies. However since wild plants fulfill a subsistence need and occupy fallow lands and forests, both of which are open accessed and poorly managed (except farm lands), these wild plants are underestimated and not captured in national economic assessments.
Wild edible plant use is more like a living link with the surrounding habitat and a keystone of culture, but not just food and income. Therefore, the decline of traditional ways of life and decreased use of wild edible plants are interlinked. This is vital when we talk about households that work in near- subsistence circumstances.