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Understanding the contribution of wild edible plants to rural social-ecological resilience in semi-arid Kenya

Stephanie A Shumsky, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University
Gordon M. Hickey, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University
Bernard Pelletier, Department of Natural Resource Sciences, McGill University
Timothy Johns, Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, McGill University; School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, McGill University


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Wild edible plants (WEPs) are known to make important contributions to food baskets and livelihoods in the smallholder and subsistence farming communities of sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, protecting and promoting the sustainable use of WEPs in concert with more mainstream agricultural innovation efforts has the potential to build household resilience to food insecurity. There is, however, a need to better understand how WEPs contribute to rural livelihoods on a daily basis and act as emergency safety nets during periods of hunger. Focusing on two villages in rural eastern Kenya, we sought to determine which household conditions are correlated with household reliance on WEPs as a coping strategy during times of food insecurity, while also investigating the role of access restrictions on adaptive capacity and the ability to obtain these important food resources. Results reveal that reliance on WEPs is greater in households that report food insecurity, lack off-farm income, and have lower asset levels. Access to WEPs is also a major factor in consumption frequency, with smaller farm sizes and increased distance to harvest areas significantly correlated with lower levels of WEP use. By combining vulnerability and adaptive capacity measures for each household, we created a more complete accounting of the factors that influence WEP consumption frequency, with implications for policy. This study represents an important first step in taking a more holistic view of the subsistence value of WEPs and the myriad factors that influence households’ reliance on, and ability to obtain, uncultivated natural resources.

Key words

East Africa; food policy; food security; social-ecological system; subsistence agriculture; sustainable livelihoods; Tharaka

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087