Food insecurity and malnutrition are issues that affect approximately one in seven people worldwide and climate change threatens to increase those risks in the future. Many of the policies that address future food systems emphasize resilience - a combination of flexibility in the face of disturbance and the capacity to adapt to change. In Sub-Saharan Africa many households employ livelihood systems that are highly sensitive to change and cannot adapt well to changing environmental conditions, leaving them vulnerable and reliant on coping strategies. Wild edible plants (WEPs) are a particularly common and effective strategy for coping with food insecurity. This research, conducted in rural Eastern Province, Kenya, suggests that certain demographic characteristics and access conditions are correlated with greater use of WEPs. Food insecure households, and those families lacking off-farm income or with lower levels of assets were found to consume WEPs with greater frequency. Access to WEPs was also a major factor, with smaller farm sizes and increased distance to harvest areas correlated significantly to lower levels of WEP use. After reviewing the existing laws pertaining to State forests, privatization trends of communal land and an increasingly formalized management regime for private land tenure, I find that access to WEPs is declining. Development practitioners’, governments’ and donor organizations’ focus on commercialization and commodity value has led extension agents and land owners to ignore the subsistence value of WEPs, especially for poorer populations. The household characteristics identified in this study are specific enough that they can be used to determine the demographic groups that rely heavily on WEPs, and the access conditions that are likely to increase the ability of those vulnerable groups to employ WEPs as a coping strategy to increase system resilience. Protecting and promoting sustainable use of WEPs could increase the current contribution of these valuable resources to household food security, especially if policies can be tailored for the groups that depend on them the most.
Shumsky, Stephanie, Gordon M. Hickey, Timothy Johns, Bernard Pelletier, John Galaty
2014 Land Use Policy