Tara Sen Thakur
There are around 20,000 plants in the world that yield some edible part and contribute towards human food. But out of these, only 3,000 plants are exploited by humans for food and only 150 plants are being cultivated on commercial scale. The rest are still to be domesticated and brought under cultivation. Ninety-five per cent food consumed by humans comes from 20 plants only. This indicates the extent of underutilisation of available plant resources. So, there exists an enormous scope for diversification, domestication and utilisation of this plant wealth for rural prosperity and entrepreneurship development.
The utilisation of wild food plants offers many advantages over commercial food plants — they add to the limited variety of fruits or food available from commercial sources; offer a free source of nutrients; are relatively hardier, more resistant to diseases, insect and pests; free from the use of harmful chemical fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides and in most cases, the species are multipurpose type. So, these offer many other uses except food.
Fetch high prices
Himachal Pradesh having a rich biodiversity offers a variety of wild food plants, which are capable of enhancing the socio-economic status of the rural community along with fulfilling their nutritional and medicinal requirements. In spite of their high market value nationally or internationally, the harvest of these plants is traded in local markets only except a few one like ‘Gucchi’ that is sold at a price as high as Rs 15,000 a kilo or above worldwide. Further value addition raises their market value up to 30 per cent to 50 per cent. And wild food plants like ‘Lingad’, ‘Fegri’ and ‘Lassura’ are sold fresh at the price of Rs 40 to Rs 80 a kilo in the local market. After value addition, their price rises significantly and the pickle of these wild foods is sold at a comparatively high price of Rs 400 to Rs 450 a kilo.
Underground parts edible
Some of the wild food plant parts like the tubers of yam plants have a high market value and are sold for Rs 200 to Rs 400 a kilo. The vines of these plants can also be cultivated in very limited space like in a concrete structure or waste containers. As underground parts of these plants are edible, they offer a great advantage of domestication in areas prone to monkey menace.
Lack of storage facilities
Some major challenges to exploring wild edibles for capacity building and entrepreneurship are ignorance among rural people about the medicinal and nutritional potential of wild food, lack of awareness about the latest processing techniques and a dearth of storage facilities, connectivity and marketing opportunities. As a result, most of the wild food items get wasted at source. These concerns need to be addressed and overcome for a better outcome.
The success of marketing wild edible plants fully in rural areas depends on developing centralised processing facilities, which can handle, wash, dry and grade wild-crafted plants in bulk for value addition. These facilities can also be used to process and market wild food plants and provide educational opportunities to the rural community.
In the current situation, along with well-known wild food plants as explained above, other plants like ‘Dudhi’, ‘Ghadiphool’, ‘Bans’, ‘Sahejana’, ‘Umare’, ‘Gulab’ and ‘Drabhad chhoonh’ having luxuriant growth with good food and market value nationally and internationally can also be promoted as an income-generating wild food in Himachal. But these need to be sustainably harvested and successfully marketed for making them an efficient mean of livelihood option, capacity building and entrepreneurship development for the rural community.
(The writer is Head of Botany Department, Government Vallabh College, Mandi)
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