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Wild Foods – More Evidence for their Importance in the Diet

Published Paper

The last edition of Field Exchange carried a research item (see box below) on the importance of wild foods, especially in times of food insecurity, for the people of southern Sudan. The article debunked a number of myths about these foods by showing they are not labour intensive to prepare, are highly nutritious and have a significant economic value. Recent research in north-east Thailand mirrors some of these findings as well as providing a number of other important perspectives about these naturally occurring food resources.

Twenty rural villages in north-east Thailand were surveyed and one village was studied in depth. The objective was to identify knowledge about the hunting and gathering of wild foods and detect any difference in knowledge based on gender.

The study found that rural people in north-east Thailand passed on knowledge of how to hunt and gather wild plants and animals from generation to generation. They learn how to survive in the driest part of the country by supplementing the main staple, rice, with these wild foods. Wild plants are an important source of vitamins and minerals. Fish, small shrimp, snails, frogs, birds and insects are all good sources of protein and energy. The availability of these wild foods varies with season and they usually are important components of the diet when they are available. Women earn cash from selling wild foods in the markets which they use to purchase cultivated and processed foods as well as other wild foods.

It was noted in the study that villagers have experienced a decrease in the availability of wild foods as a result of massive deforestation that has been going on for years. Some species of plant and animal have disappeared completely. Even though women have transplanted a number of species closer to their homes, many do not survive outside their natural setting.

Indigenous knowledge of how to gather wild foods is most critical to the poor. The knowledge is passed down in the family. The study found major gender differences in knowledge of wild foods and methods of procurement. Women had more knowledge of gathering plants and insects and of scooping for shrimp, while men had more knowledge of fishing and hunting.

The study concluded that women will be vital in identifying threatened wild species and in subsequent conservation efforts, because they realise that forests and other natural resources are critical to their survival and the survival of future generations.

Reference

Somnasang. P, Moreno. G and Chusil. K (1998); Indigenous knowledge of wild food hunting and gathering in north-east Thailand; Food and Nutrition Bulletin, Vol 19, no 4, pp 359-365.

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Reference this page

Wild Foods – More Evidence for their Importance in the Diet. Field Exchange 7, July 1999. p8. www.ennonline.net/fex/7/wild