Exploring hidden potentials of wild edible plants by SAVITA, KUNDA, VINOD
Global biodiversity includes nutritionally important wild edible plants. There is an urgent need to explore nutritionally rich edible wilds.
Increased population as well as climatic change is exerting pressure on land, natural resources and agriculture which is likely to aggravate in the times to come. Hybridization and genetic engineering in some of the food grains and vegetable crops although benefited towards higher productivity, do not cater to need based nutrition. The present day food is hardly providing essential nutrients, which is becoming a major causative factor for degenerating health and emergence of several diseases. An urgent need is felt to place mankind on the path to natural living by making available tested and certified food derived from locally available wild edible plants which can potentially meet their nutritional requirements. Cultivation of wild edible plants can help in conservation of local plant diversity along with gainful employment and will also help in sequestration of carbon dioxide as well as in situ conservation of rainwater. Global biodiversity includes many wild edible, nutritionally important and medicinal plants which have been ignored for a long time and hence there is an urgent need to re-explore these nutritionally rich edible wilds.
Some botanical explorations and publications have emphasized on the diversity and value of edible plants in India however the information available on the wild edible plants species is rather incomplete.
To explore the potential of some of the wild edible plants, initially a study was conducted by the authors in the Harsul and Peth regions of Nasik, India. In the study, 58 wilds were collected, documented for their edible potentials and authenticated samples were tested for nutritional values and recipes development. Nutritionally important nine edible wilds were used to develop 31 recipes.
This innovative study is the first step in the right direction however much more remains to be done to document, inventories, test and utilize wild edible plants occurring in vast forest land outside the study area inside and outside the country.
What actions do you propose?
- We propose selecting a project area where large proportion of wild edible plants occurs naturally after reconnaissance survey. The project area may include a cluster of 5 to 10 villages.
- The plants will be identified, documented and their populations assessed during three different seasons in a year by expert taxonomists in India. The help of local persons utilizing those plants will be requested to locate the areas from where they collect them.
- Herbarium sheets will be prepared and plants will be sent for authentication by designated Botanical organizations such as Botanical Survey of India.
- Simultaneously, door to door survey will be carried out of the nearby households who use these plants for food. The parts of plants and methodologies they use for cooking will also be documented. This survey will enable estimation of the quantum of actual usage of each plant and the extent of its availability in the wild. The plants which are likely to become extinct from the area will be separately listed as the plants of conservation concern.
- The selected plants will be sent for quantifying their nutritional and anti-nutritional components in their parts in nearby laboratories.
- Recipes will be prepared by expert cooks for different parts of the selected plants. The recipes will be tasted by groups of persons selected randomly and ratings done giving marks out of 10 by each person to each recipe.
- The plants which have high nutritional contents and their recipes are also tasty will be shortlisted for further studies. Literature survey will be carried out to know more about usage of such plants. The local persons will be again visited requesting them to try these new recipes to ascertain their views as to whether they would be keen to include them as part of their diet in the form of recipes prepared. If they are convinced, they will be motivated to grow these plants in their homesteads and then in their agricultural fields to generate resources for further propagation and popularization.
- Simultaneously agro-techniques will be developed for prioritized wild edible plants to make them easily cultivable. A feasibility study to grow plants outside there region of adaptation will be performed. This will help in popularization of edible wild species outside their native area and possibly outside the country and help in increasing their area, production and productivity.
- Literature in the form of brochures and books will be prepared to popularize the short listed plants and their recipes for general public and motivate farmers to cultivate these plants in their fields as non conventional agricultural crops. These crops will be more resilient and hardy to face adversities of water scarcity and global warming and they may even give better yields and returns in comparison to the conventional crops. The farmers will be encouraged to cultivate the plants organically to generate quality edible products which could be exportable.
- Once the plants become popular not only in terms of easy cultivation but also as raw material to prepare nutritious and tasty foods, large scale cultivation on forest and non forest lands can be undertaken. Since the plants will be chosen to include tree species and planted as mixed crops, it will help to create permanent green cover to sequester carbon dioxide (CO2) in perpetuity or over long rotation period.
- It is proposed to document other non conventional uses of such plants and also the plants which are not known to the outside world.
- Patent will be filed with appropriate agencies for novel product/drugs/foods prepared from wild edible plants.
Who will take these actions?
The action can be taken by the following stakeholders of this project/program:
- Forest Departments
- Horticulture Departments
- Agriculture Departments
- Rop vatikas (Nurseries)
- Land Holders/Owners
- Corporate sector
- House Wives
- Organizations funding such projects
- Chefs from reputed restaurants
- Restaurants and event management organizations
- Researchers/Students, NGOs etc., will be engaged for plant biodiversity survey in the identified areas. Samples of wild edible plants will be collected, authenticated and given for phytochemical testing as well as for preparation of recipes. On the basis of nutritional value of recipes, the plants can be prioritised and agro-techniques will be developed for such plants so that they can be cultivated on commercial scale by all land owners.
- Countries like India and China are utilizing ancient Ayurveda knowledge in development of bio-pharmaceutical drugs. Tribals are known to possess the knowledge of plants having medicinal properties of wild plants. Food processors and biopharmaceutical manufacturers will be involved in development of by-products from wild edible plants.
- The Government should frame policy to undertake such activities on forest and non forest lands and give incentives for cultivation to private land owners.
Where will these actions be taken?
- The action is proposed to be taken on degraded forest areas, inside horticultural plantations, lands of agriculture departments and land owned by NGOs and farmers all over India. Cultivation of such plants can even be undertaken in the compounds of bungalows and as potted plants even in urban landscapes in flats. Some of these plants can even be cultivated on outer walls of multistory buildings as one of the techniques of vertical farming.
- It will be possible for us to transfer this technology to other countries regarding methodology of survey, identification and testing of locally available wild edible plants which are common to India and those countries.
- It will be possible to conduct such projects all over the world in biodiversity rich areas and where tribals and local forest dwellers are already using the local wild edible plants to fulfill their needs of food and nutrition.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
After land development by planting trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers of prioritized locally available wild edible plants up to harvesting stage, it can be possible to generate 20 metric tons (MT) of dry biomass per hectare per year. After the first year of plantation about four MT of carbon will be sequestered per hectare per year. This rate will continue to increase every year as the planted trees grow, harvesting more of insolent sunlight. Thus depending on the area cultivated it will be possible to calculate the emission reduction. Further some carbon will get accumulated in the soil, which is variable depending upon the soil type. Roughly about two MT of carbon will be sequestered in the humus heaps that will be produced in the first-year on one hectare area.
What are other key benefits?
- Scientifically designed project will create awareness regarding importance of wild edible plants in context of nutrition and medicine.
- Benefits, from producer to consumer in terms of financial returns and nutritious food. This food free from toxicity will promote immunity against several diseases.
- Methodology suggested will promote organic farming, recycling of biodegradable waste and conservation of rainwater. Waste land will be utilized for cultivation of wilds.
- The farmers will be benefited by domesticating non conventional agricultural crops on their farm lands. The farmers who adopt these plants initially could stand to benefit substantially by even supplying or selling the planting material to other cultivators.
- The project will help in collection and biodiversity conservation through domestication and cultivation, which can be used as gene pools in future breeding programs.
- Natural defense mechanism possessed by wild plants will be explored and utilized in control of insect pests.
What are the proposal’s costs?
The survey, documentation, testing and recipe making will cost about INR 200,000 (About USD 3000) per village and can be completed in one to one and a half year.
As per model estimate prepared for water conservation, developing humus in the soil and mixed planting of trees, shrubs, herbs and climbers, it costs about INR 200,000 per hectare to be spent in the second year. Accordingly, the total investment can be calculated for the total area available for plantation. These plantations will start giving returns from the second year onwards. There will not be any adverse effect on the environment since the total project will be executed without using chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The project will be totally eco-friendly and ecologically sustainable.
Tree Species for Plantation: Cordia dichotoma, Sesbania grandiflora, Muraya koenigi, Sterculia urens, Madhuca indica, Wrightia tinctoria, Gardenia latifolia, Cassia fistula, Schrebera swieteniodes, Moringa oleifera, Oroxylon indicum, Ziziphus rugosa, Ficus recemosa, Ficus hispida, Aegle marmelos.
Herb, Shrub and Climber species for Plantation: Dioscoria bublifera, Argyreia nervosa, Canavalia gladiate, Carissa carandus, Peucedanum grande, Sphaeranthus indicus, Celosia argentea, Momordica diocia, Holarrhena antidysenterica, Hibiscus Cannabinus, Solanum villosum, Amaranthus paniculatus, Colocasia esculanta, Curculingo orchioides, Cassia tora, Embelia ribes.
The model cost estimated is enclosed below
Model Estimate of Plantation of Wild Edible Plants (1 Hectare Area considered in computation of project cost, Daily labor wages INR 300 per person per day)
- Physical, ethano-botanical and socioeconomic survey of the identified area, assessment and quantification of wild edible plant biodiversity, nutritional analysis and preparation of recipes as well as standardization of agro-technique of short listed plants will be done in one to one and a half years.
- In the second year actual plantation of the shortlisted plants will be done.
- The project will become operational in three years time from the start and it will continue to give progressively increasing returns from the third year onwards.
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