Tribes in News

Wild Food Plants


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WFP and their nutrients content mentioned, Soliga Tribals

Mains level : Utility of traditional knowledge of tribals

Wild food plants (WFPs)

  • WFPs which are neither cultivated nor domesticated constitute a special category.
  • They grow wild in forests as well as in farmlands and are harvested by local people as sources of food.
  • The tradition of eating WFPs, to augment staple food crops, continues in the present day.
  • For forest- dwelling communities, forests remain the main source of food, nutrition, and livelihoods even today.
  • The Soliga tribe is one such community in the Western Ghats who use their indigenous tradition of eating WFPs, to augment staple food crops

Soligas and their traditional knowledge

  • The Soligas are one of few remaining forest-dwelling tribes in and around the forests of Biligiri Ranganath (BR) Hills, MM Hills, and Bandipur in Karnataka and the Sathyamangalam forests in Tamil Nadu.
  • The study revealed that the diversity of WFPs consumed by the Soligas evolved over generations as a survival strategy.
  • They relate the usage of WFPs to seasonal plant availability and the status of resources.
  • These tribals can even predict the availability of WFPs with respect to micro-climatic changes, indicating a long-term intimate knowledge of their surroundings.
  • In addition to their role in balancing food baskets of the poor, WFPs play an important role in maintaining the nutritional and livelihood security for forest communities during periods of drought or scarcity.

Examples of WFPs

  • According to Soligas, they get a variety of mushrooms, tender bamboo shoots, and fruits like Jamune, Karanada, wood apple, custard apple and several varieties of leaves during the rainy season.
  • Honey and tubers like Dioscorea, makal and many ceropegia are harvested throughout the year.
  • In the hot dry summers, the Soligas use leaves and fruits like mango, jackfruit, amla, bel and tamarind.
  • Except rice, another staple food of Soligas which they grow, the forests give them everything else.

Why WFPs?

  • For example, edible leaves such as Kaddisoppu and Javanesoppu available in the forest have a very high content of pro-vitamin A (Beta Carotene), anti-oxidants and soluble protein.
  • It is found that the leaves are rich in digestible iron, zinc, and manganese as well.
  • Tubers and fruits from the forest that are rich in vitamins and anti-oxidant, are in high demand in local markets.
  • Some of the tubers and mushrooms also have high iron, zinc, vitamins and anti-oxidant content that is vital for nutritional security.

Threats to WFPs

  • Despite their role in food security, forests are mostly left out of policy decisions related to food security and nutrition.
  • Forest foods are in high demand, both in tribal community markets and nearby rural markets.
  • Though this may appear an opportunity for economic empowerment of tribal communities, if not managed, over-harvesting could lead to degradation of the forests and ultimately, disappearance of these very species.
  • Activities such as stone quarrying, mining and development pose grave threats to WFPs.
  • The other threat is from commercial monoculture plantations on forestland under afforestation and social forestry programmes, which are crowding out these wild species.

Way forward

  • For WFPs to be preserved for posterity, the forests must be co-managed by tribal communities.
  • For the tribal communities, the forest is not just a source of food, but is also a part of their identity.
  • Their way of life is respectful of nature and recognizes diversity in its different manifestations.
  • The tribal community’s relationship with the forest is one of belonging rather than ownership.
  • Community forest management is good for the health of the forests.
  • Implementation of India’s landmark 2006 Forest Rights Act that offers provisions to involve communities in safeguarding forest resources and developing co-management plans is needed.
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