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African wild harvest project

African Cucumber Momordica balsamina L.

Native to Ethiopia & Sudan

Tolerates wide range of extreme conditions

By Rory McBurney

The 'African Wild Harvest' project is a collaboration between the Royal Botanic Garden Kew1 and the UK Medical Research Council's Resource Centre for Human Nutrition Research (HNR), Cambridge. The project began in February 2002. Its purpose is to link Nutritional and Botanical data on African wild food plants and fungi, highlighting future research needs.

Why Wild Foods?

During times of severe food shortages, populations have come to depend on wild foods for survival. In the long term, where local populations are heavily reliant on external food aid, there is a rapid loss of the ability and desire to utilise wild foods that may have been routinely added to diets in previous generations. In addition population displacement and environmental degradation often associated with famine and food shortages have resulted in species loss from certain areas. 'African Wild Harvest' builds upon a pilot project on Sub-Saharan famine food legumes, which resulted in a manual entitled 'Dryland Legumes in Africa: Food for Thought' (Huxham et al. 1998). This drew together information on 35 lesser-known legumes including line drawings, distribution, preparation methods, and nutrient contents. The first output from 'African Wild Harvest' will be a compilation of the nutrient content of wild foods of North East Africa, focusing on Ethiopia. It is hoped that this output will be of immediate use to field workers calculating the contribution that wild foods make to the household food basket. In the future the project hopes to investigate the interactions between humans, wild foods, and the environment.

External Partners

Sausage Tree Kigelia africana (Lam.) Benth

Seeds roasted and eaten

Fruits are used in beer fermentation in East Africa

Wide variety of uses in traditional medicine

Tubers, Leaves

The UK Medical Research Council's Resource Centre for Human Nutrition Research (HNR) has particular expertise in both data quality assessment, and compilation of food composition tables and databases. In particular, a number of HNR studies are designed to investigate how poor rural populations adapt to low nutrient intakes and how to define the limitations of these responses. At present 'African Wild Harvest' is also in discussions with international Relief agencies operational in the field of human nutrition and food security. It is hoped that through working directly with them, the project can contribute both botanical skill and nutritional information in order to understand the contribution that wild foods make to the food basket of populations under acute and chronic nutritional stress.

The Long Term Goal

Together with its partners, 'African Wild Harvest' hopes to create a resource with a user-friendly interface that has information on:

This information should in turn be useful to local staff and international organisations alike, contributing to the long-term management and availability of wild plants as sources of nutrients.

Survey of Economic Plants for Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (SEPASAL)

African Wild Harvest is part of SEPASAL, which is a major database on useful 'wild' and semidomesticated plants of tropical and subtropical drylands. It began in 1981 with funding from OXFAM. The database contains information on more than 6200 useful dryland species, excluding major crops, but including information on many wild food plants. It is widely used by aid and development organisations, government departments and nongovernmental organisations to help support sustainable use programmes in drylands. Data include: scientific name; plant family; vernacular and trade names; geographical distribution; ecology; uses of plants; properties and chemical analyses, and references. SEPASAL offers an advisory service that can be accessed on the Internet by the following link: If you don't have access to the Internet, you can still write to us. The information SEPASAL provides is free for NGO's involved in development work.

Show footnotes

1The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew's science programme focuses on sustainable development, particularly in tropical drylands. Activities include:

  • Training botanists and other professionals on plant conservation techniques and collection management
  • Contributing to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD).

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Reference this page

Rory McBurney (2002). African wild harvest project. Field Exchange 16, August 2002. p9.



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