What do you think should be ECHO and partners’ role in promoting wild foods?

ECHO East Africa is looking for your insights on the following. In your response, indicate which question(s) you are responding to:

  1. Should ECHO improve its network members’ access to wild foods which may be underutilized?

  2. Should ECHO store and share seeds and planting materials of wild foods in demonstration gardens to make them more affordable and acceptable for promotion than other conventional food options?

  3. Will the promotion of wild foods favorably impact biodiversity and the conservation of wild areas and species?

  4. Do wild foods have a place in the food security work you do either as a development worker, or as a provider of diverse foods for your family?

If you would like to read more about this topic, please read ECHO East Africa Note 9 [EAN Issue # 9 | ECHOcommunity.org]


Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes! All four questions :slight_smile:

We need MANY more indigenous / native species valued, restored in our landscape, studied, shared, sold, innovated with, etc. We do that in our life and work www.NeverEndingFood.org


I did a lot of work more than 30 years ago on wild foods in South Sudan for my PhD and it was also a significant topic in relation to work I did on HHFS in South Sudan in the 1990s and 2000s. It links strongly with ITK (Indigenous Technical Knowledge). One of the conclusions I came to in my thesis is that the Moru people mainly cultivate staples and the relish is (or was) mainly from wild sources.
In 2005 I wrote a booklet on “Managing Wild Foods in Southern Sudan. Here in Kenya I have perhaps done rather less on the topic though my experience from Sudan has fed into most things I do and teach. The problem is that the population density leads to a very different relationship with the wild environment. I have perhaps been less involved in wild foods here in Kenya than in wild medicinal plants.
Access to wild foods is something that very much depends on the population density and the amount of wild or common land available.
However, all indigenous food crops started out as wild foods and the Sudano-Ethiopian region is a very significant centre for biodiversity. Indigenous vegetables are half-way between being wild foods and domesticated.
So to answer the specific questions, although some of the comments relate to more than one question:

  1. Improving access to wild foods can have benefits but also can cause both environmental and social conflict challenges. Improving access without increasing supply could be very damaging, but if access means protecting and planting indigenous wild foods then this must be beneficial. Increasing understanding of the value of wild foods for HHFS is valuable, however I see a warning in relation to exploitation of wild foods for commercial purposes. Over-fishing in Lake Victoria is a very good example of this. However there are many other examples I can quote. Shea butter is widespread in South Sudan and has been exploited for export by some organisations. The result is that it is not readily available for the local population as it used to be and they are using imported maize oil which to me is an abomination.
  2. Storing seeds and planting materials of indigenous foods is certainly something that fits very closely with ECHO’s core mission and values. I believe that indigenous vegetables have always been important. I can see only benefit and no negative aspects. Wild Foods also have great potential for improvement by careful selection. Because they have not been bred in most cases the genetic variability means there is great potential for increasing production through simple selection and breeding techniques. However having said that I also caution against certain breeding philosophies that go for quantity rather than quality and I see this in some seeds of indigenous vegetables being promoted by some organisations.
  3. Now with the emphasis on tree growing we are talking more and more about planting indigenous species. These should include indigenous fruit and food producing trees such as Tamarindus, Annona, Diospyros, Vitex, Balanites etc should always be included as indigenous trees in a tree growing programme. There is some danger that promoting the value of certain indigenous plants can lead to their destruction as we have seen with medicinal trees such as Prunus africana and Warbugia ugandensis where the commercialisation of the bark has led to widespread destruction. At least with wild food trees use of them does not lead to overexploitation as we have seen with the destruction of medicinal trees. With wild root plants such as wild yams there is a challenge that indigenous use is sustainable and based on harvesting what is immediately needed and leaving some for the future. If more people start looking for them they can easily be eradicated from an area as I think is seen with Orchids in southern Tanzania.
  4. Wild foods have had a very important part in my work in South Sudan, and a lesser extent here in Kenya. In Kisumu our farm is known as the place where they grow weeds, although much of this relates to the medicinal plants and trees we have. Wild foods are very important in HHFS in South Sudan and I believe have great potential in responding to the challenges of Climate Change. In our teaching on responding to climate change we emphasise the importance of well adapted indigenous crops and here there is a continuum between the wild and the domesticated.
    I can say a lot more on this topic and will be very happy to interact more with ECHO from my research and experience.

Network Member @Sara_Sytsma shared the resource Edible Plants of Teso, Uganda.
She says

I ask people in the villages to teach me about different plants they eat. I started on a “book” with the information I could collect so far. Some Ugandan agricultural development staff have helped me too.

For each plant category, plants are listed in alphabetical order by Ateso name. Other names are also given. Then there is a description of its growth habit, an explanation of its uses, and instructions for preparing for consumption.

If you have additions to the book, please let us know by sharing them here!

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My initial reaction to all the questions listed above is yes!.. but with due caution.
There is the tension of utilizing indigenous knowledge and resources, including wild foods and taking advantage of them. For instance, there are many indigenous and culturally significant home remedies that have risen in popularity and been marketed without regard to the culture(s) that it may arise out of.
On the other hand one could argue that this does create economic and development potential for the home culture as well. Increasing biodiversity in our gardens and stewarding resources including wild food and traditional practices can have a positive impact on food security and sovereignty.

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