Harvesting native fauna and flora for food

Applying indigenous agriculture

Indigenous food production systems involve complex processes of producing food from diversified agro-ecological environments to meet the nutritional requirements of the local people.


Women labourers form a loosely structured, informal organization to rear ducks in common property resources such as communal tanks in south India. Droppings of ducks in the communal tank increase the fish population. The favourable environment for the growth of fish encourages men labourers to spend their leisure time catching fish in the tank. Duck-fish production system contributes significantly to nutritional intake of participant households.

For 30 centuries, the Huastec Indians of northeastern Mexico have managed their forests in an indigenous system that integrates commercial and subsistence production, i.e. has two types of plant manipulation: the manipulation of vegetation en masse and the manipulation of individual plants. Decisions about plant manipulation reflect a concern for minimal labour investment to place the resource at hand. Non-crop plant manipulation practices potentially influence the evolution of individual plants and plant communities primarily by affecting species' distribution and population parameters. The impact of plant-management practices clearly goes beyond domestication. Elements of primary and secondary forest coexist with introduced species in this diverse silvicultural structure which complements the swidden and permanent agriculture fields of the Huastec farmstead. The forest's direct production of the food, timber, and fuel resources buffers the Huastec peasant family against market fluctuations and the failed harvest of a single crop. The Huastec system of forest management offers an alternative pattern to the agroforestry and plantation schemes now being suggested for development in the tropics. It is an alternative that provides protection for wild genetic resources while it contributes to the combination of commercial and subsistence agriculture so important for the successful modernization of peasant agriculture. Documentation of this system demonstrates that ethnobotanists and economic botanists have an important but unrealized role to play in the protection of biotic resources and in the development of sustained yield agroecosystems for peasants.

Mesquite Prosopis laevigata and P. glandulosa var. torreyana are used in the highlands of San Luis Potosi, Mexico for human food, folk medicine, forage, fuel and for construction. The plant communities where mesquite is the most important element provide wildlife refuge, recreation, nectar and desertification control. The development of these species by cultivation and plant breeding should be directed towards supplying those products in high demand.

The Sanio-Hiowe of Papua New Guinea produce edible starch from the sago palm Metroxyulon sp. This is a highly productive subsistence technology; nevertheless, the Sanio-Hiowe economy is characterized by an absence of intensification. This is ascribed to functional consequences of dependence on hunting and gathering in the interior. In coastal and riverine habitats, other societies using sago supplemented by fishing or horticulture can more fully exploit the potential of sago as a basis for economic intensification and a more sedentary life.

Pandanus is another group of palms well represented in Papua New Guinea, with over 66 species growing from sea level to 3,000 m. The territory of the Wopkaimin, who live at the headwaters of the Ok Tedi in the Star and Hindenburg Mountains, is particularly rich in wild and domesticated species of Pandanus. The Wopkaimin have an indigenous taxonomy for the genus which corresponds closely with scientific taxonomy. Pandanus spp. are widely used for their subsistence, ritual and material culture.

In Kenya, the Indigenous Food Plants Programme endeavours to improve diets as well as preserve cultural practices and preserve biodiversity. The programme is part of a complex of two complementing centres at the National Museums of Kenya this being the Centre for Biodiversity and the new Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (KENRIK). Both will provide basal data to be utilised in conservation and development.

Yam Dioscorea spp. is the most important crop on Pahnpei Island in the Eastern Carolines (Micronesia), and figures prominently in the traditional prestige system. There are over one hundred and seventy locally-recognized cultivars of yam representing 5 species. Yam production is seasonal, complementing the breadfruit season. The yam season is delineated by a series of feasts and ceremonies. In order to insure a steady supply of yams during this time, farmers plant several cultivars, use different trellising methods, and employ other techniques. Cultivation of yams is done mainly under live breadfruit trees, although several other species of trees are used, and are often ring-barked to improve yam growth. Taboos and magic are still employed by many farmers. Although production per unit land area is low under the traditional system, yams of large size are produced which are highly suitable for prestige purposes.

The seeds of cycad plants are toxic food used by many Aboriginal groups in northern Australia. Acute symptoms produced after consumption of untreated Cycas seeds are due to azoxyglycosides, especially cycasin, although the toxic dose depends on the animal species tested. There are three traditional methods used to treat these seeds: brief leaching in water; prolonged leaching in water; and aging. Aboriginal people living at Donydji outstation in northeast Arnhem Land, most regularly consume aged seeds of Cycas angulata. Analyses of fresh seeds and seeds prepared at Donydji and in the laboratory indicate that cycasin is effectively removed by all the traditional preparation techniques, although each technique has an end product with different storage and handling properties. These techniques have a long history and archaeological remains of seeds in Australia may date back to the Pleistocene.


Exotic herds animals should have no place on the paddocks of Australia. Kangaroos should be farmed instead. Sustainable harvesting of kangaroos for human consumption would replace sheep and cattle, which at present lock up (and devastate, at a cost of Aust$2 billion per year in land degradation costs) most of the land required for effective long term biological conservation.

Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 15: Life on Land