Research Associate

Harisha RP
Post Doctoral Fellow / Project Manager (Environment and Development)

I am a conservation biologist at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and The Environment (ATEE). My primary interests include enterprise-based conservation, natural resources management, sustainable livelihoods, documentation, and promotion of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). 

I studied life science at the University of Bangalore and did my MSc in Botany at Bangalore University. I did a Ph.D. on Traditional knowledge of wild food plants. Currently, I am involved in invasive species management programs and working on Non-Timber Forest Produce(NTFPs) species research in Malai Mahadeshwara(MM)Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka. 

I am a life member of the International Society of Ethnobotany and the Indian Science Congress. I received research grants from Rufford Small Grant and Mahamad Bid Zeyad Species Conservation Fund. At present, I am coordinating a community-based Conservation Centre (CCC) and Lantana Craft Centres (LCC) at MM Hills. 

I published six peer-reviewed research papers in international journals, 10 Popular articles in Down to Earth and the International Society of Ethnobotany Newsletter, and Three book chapters in Taste of India, the indigenous food system in India. Two handbooks were published on NTFPS sustainable harvest methods and the Forest Rights Act 2006. Publishing soon; a Coffee table book on Future Foods.

Motivation, strength, and outcomes

My fast experiences of living in the village and realizing the values and ethnographic knowledge that I gained throughout my early life motivated me to share and express the values of eco-friendly life in villages as well as rural food resources and dietary systems. 

Working closely on the ground with indigenous communities continuously for 15 years in close association with many research and community outreach programs was the vast understanding and experiences that motivated me to write a book. I got interested in studying the indigenous knowledge of wild edible plants and documented more than 125 plants in the Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. I also researched socio-cultural importance, economic values, and more importantly nutritional values. More than 200 Individual interviews, 30 focus group discussions in 30 villages, and personal observations were recorded by staying with the community for three months. These extensive interactions, personal observations, and experiences from the past 15 years with the Soliga and Yarava communities in Karnataka state made me write a book.

Recently I wrote an article in Down to Earth on a wild edible plant with the title “Green Promise” and this article going to be the book chapter and will be published in a special edition of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) soon. 

Recent publications such as a book chapter in March 2023 on the History, Use, and Impacts of Globalization. Springer Natures-Book title: Wild Food Plants for Zero Hunger and Resilient Agriculture.

 I have written a blog in, a popular article in national (Down to Earth) and international periodical (International Society of Ethnobotany). Handbook on Forest Rights Act 2006 in Kannada language- five thousand copies have been sold, Hand book on sustainable use and harvest practices of Non-Timber forest produce and sold three thousand copies. Both these books were published by ATREE. 

Larger goal and book features 

As part of our larger goal, we are trying to conserve indigenous knowledge, and developing a model to promote local, endemic, and seasonal food. At the preliminary stage, we created a database of 300+ species of wild edibles which were used as food by local indigenous communities.

By doing this we would re-link local communities with their local food cultures which could get perpetuity as well as facilitate access to nutritious food. A series of action research involving relevant stakeholders to understand the feasibility of linking local food with tourism is being designed.

By promoting local food in the urban area and food and farm tourism we were hoping to link local communities as well as visitors to the local food culture. Additionally, this concept will come full circle with the cultivation of wild edibles in homestead gardens for easy access as well as for livelihood benefits. 

The book “Forgotten Foods” gives a detailed account of local seasonal wild food plants are accompanied by the way the plants are used to prepare dishes, thus providing a diverse culinary habit of the indigenous groups. The food plants and prepared dishes are described in a cultural, socioeconomic, and health context. 

Traditional foods are either harvested from the forest or farmland by indigenous communities as part of traditional food systems. Wild food plants are usually non-resource intensive or organic, highly neglected resources but economically viable and climate-resilient. The food-centered book creates a platform by bringing in diverse perspectives through storytelling, promoting indigenous food systems and communities that have been practicing historically. This book surely attracts wild food lovers, community institutions, NGOs, teachers, students, researchers, entrepreneurs, conservation practitioners, farmers, Pharma, and Ayurveda. It is upon all of us to recognize their expertise and credit them for being guardians of our fast-disappearing forests.