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Biocultural diversity and food sovereignty: a case study of human-plant relations in northwestern Ethiopia

Ruelle, Morgan L., Kassam, Karim-Aly, Morreale, Stephen J., Asfaw, Zemede, Power, Alison G., Fahey, Timothy J.
Food security 2019 v.11 no.1 pp. 183-199
case studies, economic plants, farmers, food security, food sovereignty, information exchange, interviews, markets, species diversity, villages, woody plants, Ethiopia
Based on a case study in the Debark District of northwestern Ethiopia, this article investigates how biocultural diversity provides options for food sovereignty. Following a series of semi-structured interviews with 30 farming families in 28 villages, we describe farmers’ relations with plants, including 1) consumption, 2) exchange, 3) use within food system activities, 4) other benefits, and 5) negative impacts to the food system. Farmers identified 123 plants that play a role within their food system. Although the total number of useful plants is highest for non-domesticated and woody species, the average family named more domesticated and herbaceous species. Non-domesticated plants are rarely consumed as food or sold at the local market; however, they play important roles in other food system activities. We introduce a new Substitutability Index to estimate the number of plants available for specific purposes within categories of use and identify strengths and potential vulnerabilities of the Debark food system. We conclude that programs and policies to expand farmers’ relations with plant diversity, by promoting useful semi- and non-domesticated species and facilitating knowledge exchange among communities, could expand options for food sovereignty as a path toward long-term food security.