“The forest is not a resource for us. It is life itself,” – Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan, an indigenous leader and ecologist.
Our Expert Group “Wild Foods, Biodiversity and Livelihood” with Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (NTFP-EP Asia) will work to consolidate traditional ecological knowledge about wild foods in Asia and bridge it with the relevant policy arenas to ensure wise, inclusive and impactful decision making in the areas of food security, poverty reduction and sustainable forest management.
Forests play a key role in climate regulation, and indigenous and forest communities have been recognized as the best forest guardians, achieving outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of government-funded protected areas. However, forests are so much more than a massive air-conditioner and a carbon storage facility.
Apart from providing water, soil protection and a place to live for animals, forests are also where we discovered foods and medicines. Many of the prescription drugs used in our healthcare, including antibiotics and cancer medications, are derived from nature. Bananas, cassava, coffee, cacao, vanilla, cashews and avocadoes all originate from the forest too.
These foods are well known and widely loved, but there are many more forest treasures most of us have never even heard of. Take, for instance, the pyap leaves from Cambodia or the dang sum herb from Vietnam or the pako fern from the Philippines, which are cherished and masterfully utilized by the traditional forest dwellers and indigenous peoples. They have been relying on wild foods for millennia, integrating their food practices with sustainable forest management.
For the forest-based communities, wild foods provide nutrition and resilience in times of food insecurity and carry a lot of cultural value. What is more, these food practices and traditions hold many sustainability lessons that could be employed to repair our food systems and step forward the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Finding ways to add value and ensure sustainable use of wild foods could not only reduce poverty and vulnerability of indigenous and traditional communities, but also support the development, biodiversity and climate goals through sustainable land use and forest management.
This area has only recently started to receive attention and recognition and, because it spans forestry, agriculture, education, culture and many other fields, it is usually dispersed between different institutions and actors. Our new Expert Group aims to establish a collaborative platform for traditional ecological knowledge in Asia. This project will bring together practitioners, networks and organizations working in the area, consolidating knowledge exchange, collaboration and, ultimately, providing traditional ecological knowledge with a stronger voice and leverage.
Through field learning, dialogue and networking, the Expert Group will explore the biodiversity of wild foods in Asia, both flora and fauna, including restoration and rehabilitation of these resources. The group will look into and share the examples of the ecological knowledge of various indigenous and forest-based communities in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam.
This project will facilitate and convene dialogues and knowledge-sharing activities at the regional level, engaging national and regional representatives from the forest and indigenous communities, government, science, civil society, and development agencies, creating an enabling environment for forest communities and indigenous peoples in Asia, going beyond conservation and expanding the understanding of the value of forests, especially wild foods, and traditional ecological knowledge and systems.
At present, the Expert Group is working on the development of country situation papers for India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. These papers are about practices and policies on food security and resource management. The knowledge from the papers will be communicated through policy briefs too. An online information campaign on wild foods will be launched this June and run until May 2021. Featuring various multimedia, this campaign will raise awareness on wild foods and traditional food systems.
Finally, the Expert Group will launch a series of public webinars this year about Wild foods, traditional systems and tenure (July 2020), Wild foods and biodiversity (August 2020), and wild foods and livelihoods (September 2020). The webinar series will lead to a regional dialogue on the subject. All the events will be advertised through SIANI media channels.