Enumerator, Alice Likando Masheke Siamutondo, measuring a household container used to collect wild foods.
Photo Credit: Penias Banda

By E. Ashley Steel, Lubomba Bwembelo, Akatama Mulani, Alice Likando Masheke Siamutondo, Penias Banda, Davison Gumbo, Kaala Moombe, and Amy Ickowitz.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Across the globe, people collect mushrooms, fruits, roots, leafy greens and other wild foods from forests. These wild foods enhance the quality of diets for those who consume them and provide income for those who sell or trade them. A clear understanding of the quantities of wild foods collected from forests and of the people collecting these foods is essential for designing forest policy and management strategies; however, the collection of wild foods is challenging to measure because it is dispersed and usually informal.  In addition, these wild foods are often collected using buckets and pails without standard units.

Zambia is one of the countries with the highest proportion of forest area globally, with just over sixty-percent of land area designated as forest. These forested lands provide a wealth of nutritious foods. The availability of wild foods in Zambia is, however, dwindling because of unsustainable harvest methods, forest degradation, deforestation, and expansion of agricultural production.  We wanted to understand the importance of wild foods from forests to local communities in order to enable forest management policies that appropriately value wild foods.

In 2019, we conducted a set of linked focus groups and household surveys on nine wild food types (mushrooms, fruits, tubers, green leafy vegetables, nuts, insects, wild meat, wild fish, aquatic plants) in five areas of Zambia.  For each food type, we asked the focus groups which were the most important wild food species in their area and then we asked the households how much of those wild foods they collected. Our survey was unique in that we measured the collecting containers used by each household.  In this way, we were able to estimate the quantity of wild food collected over the year.

Of the 209 households surveyed, 208 collected wild foods. On average, they collected five different types of wild food and many species within each type. The most commonly collected types of foods were mushrooms, fruits, and green leafy vegetables and the estimated quantify collected varied greatly by household and across each of the five study areas. We did not find that the volume of wild food collected was strongly correlated with metrics of wealth, indicating ubiquitous consumption of wild foods; however, the most food insecure households collected particularly high volumes of wild food. We estimate that the volume of wild foods collected from forests in Zambia is at least 238, 000 m3 per year, 125% of the volume of sawnwood produced, or about 12 million large (20 l) collecting buckets. Our results underscore the need to consider the importance of wild food collected from forests and to understand local patterns of collection when designing forest policy and management strategies.