Wildlife & Biodiversity

Creating foraging-friendly cities can strengthen people-biodiversity connections

Urban foraging can help solve food crisis by changing how we eat

By N Manika
Published: Monday 11 July 2022

One gets to see the plethora of colours nature offers in the form of wild edible fruits in India as summer arrives. 

Upon asking why these fruits are so costly, Shankar, who sells the foraged mulberry said: “Didi, ab bohot dhoondhana padta hai, mehnat zyada padti hai, isiliye”. (It takes a lot of time and labour to search these fruits now. So, it influences the cost.) He is not wrong in saying this.  

Foraging in India is not a new phenomenon. Urban foraging is ubiquitous and has existed since the establishment and development of cities. It is the practice of gathering biological resources within urban and peri-urban settings.  

Some people use foraging to make their living and survive. But for the majority, it is a  form of cultural, recreational and nutritional enrichment. Foraging provides additional income to vulnerable communities and enhances livelihoods. 

These types of fruits and weeds are generally considered to be health-promoting, as they contain more nutrients than staple crops and some are resistant to harsh weather conditions as well. These micronutrients and proteins may not be accessible to many people and they help build the immune response to various diseases.

They also play an instrumental role in maintaining positive mental health, since practitioners  have reported feeling connected to nature and strengthening social bonds.

Foraging also contributes to the preservation of local ethnobotanical and  ethnoecological knowledge.

Foraging in urban systems has the potential to improve social-ecological resilience, especially in the face of climate change, economic disruptions, and disease outbreaks. But the question is, are our cities suited to carry on  this tradition? 

As cities are becoming increasingly populous, and with researchers estimating that two billion extra people will need to be fed by 2050, the issue of food sources has become more pressing. 

Urban foraging can contribute to solving the crisis by changing how we  eat now. Our choices can have dramatic consequences for the planet.

Unsustainable urbanisation and development affect the ecology of organisms in urban habitats. City biodiversity is fundamental for human health and well-being. It also  delivers a wide range of ecosystem services. 

A city’s institutional, financial as well as physical capabilities often amplify disruptions and changes of any kind, like we witnessed during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

The fact that Indian cities are designed to provide secondary production of goods and  services within factories and offices, with low priority given to providing natural  spaces that are both accessible and interactive, is of concern. 

Diversifying and  localising resource production can reduce industry’s impact. Foraging plays an  important role here.

De-densifying and interspersing industrial spaces with multifunctional natural spaces  will help preserve urban biodiversity and provide ecosystem services for human  welfare. 

Planting and maintaining species and habitats for foraging is, therefore, likely  to contribute to greater coexistence and diversity of plant and animal species in cities, alongside humans, thus increasing natural capital. 

Urbanisation, low profitability: Why prices of tamarind leaves in Andhra Pradesh have rocketed

Foragers preserve and propagate important knowledge while contributing to the local economy by utilising foraged species outside of mainstream economies.

In these critical times when climate change is severely impacting natural systems with  cascading effects on human and social capital, this practice must continue to soothe the effects. 

In doing so, city planners have to draw attention to the designs of the development  projects and focus their concerns over the rapidly shrinking access to public spaces. 

With the expansion of the build-up spaces in the urban and peri-urban areas, it is  becoming very difficult to continue this practice.  

As a complex and dynamic activity that contributes to urban livability, individual  well-being and socio-environmental equity in many ways, urban foraging cries out for better urban planning and management of biodiversity. 

However, as a forager, it is equally important to contribute to the ecosystem and be responsible. Here are a few ways an individual can contribute to make this process safer and more sustainable: 

  • Learn more about sustainable harvesting methods
  • Identifying the species correctly. In case of doubt, contact relevant departments at  your nearby institute or university
  • Forage sparingly. Consider harvest limits 
  • Avoid harvesting from heavily polluted areas
  • Give more than you receive. Plant seeds from the collected material to ensure a  sustainable supply
  • Pass on the knowledge

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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