Forests as a source of food in rural India remain under-noticed. Especially unobserved is forests’ potential to provide food for the human population inhabiting or surrounding them. For people accustomed to relying on markets and public service delivery, it is easy to overlook this aspect. Further, forest foods (also known as Non-timber Forest Produce, NTFP), tend to go unnoticed as forests are mostly viewed as spaces of wildlife co-habitation, providers of livelihood, protectors of the natural environment, viz. watershed, soil erosion, etc.
Using National Sample Survey (NSS) data, we observe that a significant section of rural population meets its consumption needs from forests through the process of free collection. This category of free collection may not exclusively represent food consumed from forests as it may also include common lands, water bodies, etc. Nevertheless, in India, NSS is the best possible data available to understand food consumed from forests. The most widely collected products are wild vegetables and wild fruits. NSS records consumption data of 148 food items that are consumed from markets, own production, both markets and own production, free collection, gifts or charities, exchanges among others. Data for the year 2011-12 show that 8.38 per cent of rural population consumes one or more food products from free collection. Almost all the households consume one or more food items from markets (reflected in the image below). In rural India, free collection from natural resources is the third most important source of food after markets and own agricultural produce among other sources.
(Figure: Percent of households consuming food from the seven sources)
(Values represent percentage of households consuming food from the seven sources)
Note: 99.75 per cent of households source at least one of the 148 food items from markets.
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