The roles and values of wild foods in agricultural systems

Zareen Bharucha, Jules Pretty

Abstract

Almost every ecosystem has been amended so that plants and animals can be used as food, fibre, fodder, medicines, traps and weapons. Historically, wild plants and animals were sole dietary components for hunter–gatherer and forager cultures. Today, they remain key to many agricultural communities. The mean use of wild foods by agricultural and forager communities in 22 countries of Asia and Africa (36 studies) is 90–100 species per location. Aggregate country estimates can reach 300–800 species (e.g. India, Ethiopia, Kenya). The mean use of wild species is 120 per community for indigenous communities in both industrialized and developing countries. Many of these wild foods are actively managed, suggesting there is a false dichotomy around ideas of the agricultural and the wild: hunter–gatherers and foragers farm and manage their environments, and cultivators use many wild plants and animals. Yet, provision of and access to these sources of food may be declining as natural habitats come under increasing pressure from development, conservation-exclusions and agricultural expansion. Despite their value, wild foods are excluded from official statistics on economic values of natural resources. It is clear that wild plants and animals continue to form a significant proportion of the global food basket, and while a variety of social and ecological drivers are acting to reduce wild food use, their importance may be set to grow as pressures on agricultural productivity increase.

Footnotes

  • While the Government Office for Science commissioned this review, the views are those of the author(s), are independent of Government, and do not constitute Government policy.

  • One contribution of 23 to a Theme Issue ‘Food security: feeding the world in 2050'.

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