Human Ecology

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 183–195 | Cite as

Wild Foods: Safety Net or Poverty Trap? A South African Case Study

  • F. PaumgartenEmail author
  • B. Locatelli
  • E. T. F. Witkowski


Wild foods contribute towards the food security of an estimated one billion people. In light of expectations of the contribution of wild foods to sustainable and climate-resilient livelihoods and widespread evidence of their consumption, their contribution to households’ diets requires a more nuanced understanding, specifically with respect to their safety net function during food shortages. Data were collected from two villages in Venda, South Africa, selected due to differences in mean annual precipitation. Semi-structured interviews were administered to 170 households and a Participatory Rural Appraisal was conducted to assess the influence of multiple variables, including household characteristics and site, on wild food use. Household archetypes were defined based on the frequency of consumption in response to increasing food scarcity. Our findings suggest limitations to the safety net function of wild foods including seasonal fluctuations in availability and decreased availability during extreme events, with dependent households decreasing their consumption frequency in response to food scarcity. Given this potential poverty trap, further research is required, particularly in terms of when the safety net function of wild foods may be weak or detrimental to the livelihoods of the vulnerable.


Climate Food security Seasonal availability fluctuations Vulnerability Wild foods Participatory rural appraisal South Africa 



We thank the communities of Bennde Mutale and Vondo for their engagement in the research as well as the research team who assisted with the data collection. Funding was provided by South Africa’s National Research Foundation, The Global Change Institute (through funding from the Carnegie Foundation of New York), the Centre of Excellence in Tree Health Biotechnology, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the Center for International Forestry Research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The necessary ethical clearance to conduct the research was obtained from the Research Office of the University of the Witwatersrand (H120803). All ethical standards were adhered to. The relevant local authorities were approached for permission to conduct the research and formal, free, prior and informed consent was obtained from all participants. Anonymity was assured.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Animal, Plants and Environmental SciencesUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Forests and SocietiesCIRADMontpellierFrance
  3. 3.Center for International Forestry ResearchLimaPeru

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