A recent research study conducted by the Indian School of Business (ISB) has shed light on the significant contribution of wild foods to women’s dietary diversity, especially among tribal communities in India. The study, titled “Wild foods contribute to women’s higher dietary diversity in India,” was published in the esteemed journal Nature Food and emphasizes the importance of food items sourced from forests and common lands in rural Indian women’s diets.
The ISB researchers collected monthly data on diet recall from 570 households across two forested districts in Jharkhand and West Bengal, predominantly inhabited by tribal communities (Adivasis). The findings revealed that wild food consumption plays a vital role in women’s diets, particularly during the months of June and July when other crops are still in their growing stages.
The results indicated that women who incorporated wild foods into their meals had significantly higher average dietary diversity scores. In fact, their scores were 13% and 9% higher in June and July, respectively, compared to those who did not collect wild foods.
The study is the result of a collaborative effort between researchers from the ISB, South Dakota State University (USA), Humboldt University (Germany), University of Michigan (U.S.), Manchester University (U.K.), and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). These findings highlight the urgency of implementing public policies that promote awareness of wild foods and safeguard people’s rights to access forests and common lands. Such initiatives can serve as instrumental measures in improving nutrition and addressing food and nutrition security concerns.
The research report unveiled a disheartening fact that 40% of the women in the study group failed to meet the minimum dietary diversity requirement throughout the one-year period. This alarming statistic underscores the critical need to address the issue of poor diets. The study emphasizes that wild food consumption is particularly significant for vulnerable women residing in tribal areas, especially during June and July when other crops are still in the early stages of growth.
Professor Ashwini Chhatre, co-author of the study and Executive Director of the Bharti Institute of Public Policy at ISB, expressed his insights, stating, “Wild foods are often considered delicacies accessible only to the affluent, with truffles and morels serving as prime examples. However, we have limited knowledge regarding the extent to which these foods support the livelihoods of impoverished communities and contribute to the nutrition security of forest-dwelling populations. Our study has unveiled a vast opportunity iceberg.
It is imperative to include wild foods and the associated knowledge of their distribution, seasonality, and abundance in the analysis of food systems and interventions aimed at improving nutrition. When climate shocks devastate rainfed crops in forested regions, it is wild foods that provide stability in food consumption for the most vulnerable households.” This groundbreaking research underscores the importance of recognizing and harnessing the potential of wild foods in addressing nutrition challenges. By integrating wild foods into policy frameworks and interventions, we can enhance the well-being and nutrition security of marginalized communities, particularly women, while simultaneously preserving the invaluable natural resources found in our forests and common lands.