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Applied ethnobotany: identification, use and socio-economic importance of wild edible plants among the Turumbu (Democratic Republic of Congo, Tshopo district)

Sarah HAESAERT student laureate

°1985 Belgium
Bio-engineer in Land and Forest Management, Universiteit Gent, Belgium, 2008

Toegepaste etnobotanie : Identificatie, gebruik en socio-economisch belang van wilde eetbare planten bij de Turumbu (DR Congo, district Tshopo)

The 1987 Brundtland Commission Report defines ‘sustainable development’ as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Sustainability addresses the depletion of resources through which prosperity is created both now and in the future. The sustainable use of forest or of fishing grounds means that no more wood or fish can be extracted than are replaced by natural growth.
Sustainable development strives for balance between ecological, economic and social concerns. This project involved a thorough study of the identification, use and socio-economic importance of wild edible plants among the Turumbu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The main activity of the Turumbu is farming. To provide additional food and income they also collect wild edible plants, mushrooms, caterpillars and honey, and also hunt, fish and breed cattle.
This was a participatory project, which means that the selection of wild edible plants was made together with the community, for it is in the first instance the villagers who know which plants are important to them. Three villages in the Turumbu territory were chosen, sufficiently far apart, consisting of a sufficient number of households and with a community unmixed with other ethnic groups. At the start of the project much effort was made to gain the villagers’ trust and local customs and sensibilities were specifically taken into account. This was achieved by way of closely framed questionnaires that sounded out the family’s socio-economic circumstances and farming activity. Plants were collected using simple means and always with the help of a number of villagers.
Further taxonomic identification and processing of the results were carried out according to ethnobotanical research methodology. The research showed that the relationship between wild edible plants ‘for personal consumption’ and ‘for sale’ not only depends on the village (distance from Kisangani) but also on the household’s total income and whether or not they hunt.
In the context of ‘biodiversity and environment for a better life’ this research has shown that the Turumbu are prepared to domesticate wild edible plants that are in the top ten for auto-consumption and sale. Therefore these plants will no longer be collected on a large scale in the forest. One such economically important plant is the vegetable Gnetum africanum. Its overexploitation leads to a rapid degradation of the forest. Its domestication will reduce the pressure on the forest and increase economic possibilities and food security. An important factor here is that only a relatively small acreage is required - finding the right balance remains an important exercise. The experience gained in this project will also be used to devise analogous approaches among other ethnic groups (provisionally still within the area around Kisangani) to whom other plants may be more important. The close collaboration with the local population contributes to the further sustainable development of ethnic groups with respect for their own socio-cultural identity.

report: Prof. R. Valcke, Laboratory of Botany, Universiteit Hasselt, Belgium