Publication Food Sovereignty Food and Nutrition from Forest

Relationships with Forest Ecological Status and Management System. Study by Debal Deb, Living Farms — supported by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung.



December 2017

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Food and Nutrition from Forest

Living Farms has been partnering with forest-dwelling ethnic communities toward reviving their agroforestry and deepening their communitarian ethos, strengthening their ethics of caring and sharing, and learning from their ecological consciousness which is reflected in their respectful symbiotic relationship with biodiversity. Living Farms also works on strategies to negotiate with the social and economic development processes and create narratives to uphold the cultural values of the ecosystem people.

The forest has always been an integral part of the cultures of forestdwelling people. It defines their being and becoming, a source of their livelihood and collective memory, a vital link between their past and present. In the words of Jagannath Majhi, a Kondh farmer, “We are as much part of the forest as the forest is part of us. We cultivate the land while the land cultivates us”.

The forest villagers collect a wide variety of foods from the forest; edible leaves, fruits, flowers, seeds, stems, roots and tubers, and mushrooms. Forest foods play a variety of roles in their food cultures, as famine foods, some as staple, some as snack foods for children, and some as delicacies. These foods are available round the year, equitably accessible to all, and encompass the forest people’s life – as a safety net, a source of vital minerals and rare delicacies, cultural relatedness, and social rootedness.

We conducted a previous study to explore the importance of forest foods in the life of forest-dwelling people, and brought out a report earlier in 2014, showing the substantial contribution of forest foods to the annual food consumption in the Adivasi households. We extended this study to explore the linkages of forest ecological status and management systems with the flow and availability of forest foods. Our mentor and friend Dr. Debal Deb designed this study, analysed the data, and interpreted the
findings. It is published jointly by Rosa-Luxemburg- Stiftung (RLS) and Living Farms.

We do hope the findings of this action research will contribute to enable policy makers as well as forest researchers to recognize the value of local food cultures that are intrinsically linked to forests to provide safe, diverse and nutritious foods throughout the year for the Adivasi and other forest communities; acknowledge the role of forest communities as custodians of our forest biodiversity; and thereby highlight the need
to implement Community Forest Rights as per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA); and to integrate the forest in the food and nutrition related policy decisions.


Living Farms


The last few decades of ‘development’ including the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainability Development Goals have included a strong emphasis on food security. Unfortunately, the fundamental notion of development itself, with its emphasis on economic growth, industrialisation, and commercialization (stateled or corporation-led), has meant that the basic survival of billions of people has been compromised. Indeed if climate crisis predictions are to be believed, then the survival of the human species itself (and that of all other species) is imperiled. Part of this has been ‘agricultural development’, with an emphasis on Green Revolution like strategies, leading to biological homogenization, the wiping out of entire knowledge systems, a growing chasm between the economic and the cultural, killing of soil and poisoning of water, and a deepening crisis of livelihoods for farming, fishing, pastoral and forest-dwelling communities.

Amongst the gravest errors of this process has been the neglect, and often the deliberate undermining, of the importance of biodiversity in meeting the survival and livelihood needs of communities dependent on natural habitats like forests and wetlands. Thousands of undomesticated plants and animals have been used for meeting food, nutritional, medicinal and other crucial needs. Even for populations that are largely cultivators or pastoralists, the ‘wild’ has been a crucial source of such needs. Yet exclusionary models of conservation, top-down bureaucratic governance of forests, the artificial division between agriculture and forest departments mirrored in a similar divide in academia and ‘expert’ institutions, have all ignored this phenomenon.

Over a decade back, the world’s largest biodiversity planning exercise, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan process that Kalpavriksh had the good fortune to coordinate, attempted to bring the spotlight back on undomesticated foods. Unfortunately a series of uncomfortable truths in the final report of this process, including about the need to change basic economic and political structures, were too unpalatable for the government, and the NBSAP outputs were put aside. It is therefore very heartening to see the work of organisations like Deccan Development Society, Living Farms and others, and of individuals like Debal Deb, in highlighting the role of forests in food security.

The quest of the team that Debal has headed in producing this report, had the task of bringing out two aspects that very little work has been done on before: the links between the quality/nature of forest and food availability, and a comparision of the provisioning of forest food from state-managed and informal community-managed forests. The team’s findings are that the better the ecological status of the forest, the
greater the diversity and quantity of foods that communities access; and that forests under informal community management provide greater provisioning services.

Neither of these results is a surprise for me, having worked on community based conservation for nearly four decades. But the systematic assessment that provides evidence for these results, has rarely been done before, so the report is an extremely valuable addition to the literature (even though one would caution that a sample of one site each may not be adequate to draw a general global conclusion). Hopefully it will also provide a basis for generating or furthering a dialogue on how forests should be managed, and by whom should they be governed. In the light of the ongoing processes relating to the Forest Rights Act (FRA), this report is especially relevant. Indeed a next step for Deb and team could be to study a forest now officially under the governance of the community, having had its community forest resource rights recognized under the FRA, performs in terms of food provisioning.

I have long respected the work of Debal in a variety of fields, including agriculture, biodiversity, and the critique of development. This report adds to his extremely valuable body of work, which people across the academic-activist-administrator-practitioner spectrum need to pay more attention to.

Ashish Kothari



1. Introduction
1.1 Food from the Forest: Considered Yet Undervalued
1.2 Carrying forward from Previous Work
1.3 Objectives and Plan of the Present Work

2. Study Sites
2.1 District Rayagada
2.2 District Balangir
2.3 Forest Types and Physiognomy
2.4 Forest Management Profiles

3. Study Design and Methods
3.1 Study Design
3.2 Forest Mensuration
3.3 Estimation of Species Diversity and Abundance
3.4 Quantification of Harvest of Wild Foods
3.5 Nutraceutical Analyses of Wild Food Samples

4. Major Findings: Forest Ecological Status and Food Biota
4.1 Forests of Rayagada District
4.2 Forests of Balangir District

5. Forest Food Availability and Influx into Villages
5.1 Wild Food from Forests in Rayagada District
5.2 Wild Food from Forests in Balangir District
5.3 Food Species and Their Edible Parts

6. The Relationship between Forest Ecological Status and Food Availability

7. Relationship of Food Cultures with Wild Food Harvest

8. The Nutritional Value of Wild Foods from the Forest

9. Summary and Overview

10. Limitation of the Study




More information on the Website of Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung South Asia in New Delhi.