Economic Botany

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 147–160

A Reward for Patience and Suffering: Ethnomycology and Commodification of Desert Truffles among Sahrawi Refugees and Nomads of Western Sahara


A Reward for Patience and Suffering: Ethnomycology and Commodification of Desert Truffles among Sahrawi Refugees and Nomads of Western Sahara. This paper reflects on the role of ethnobiological knowledge and practices for refugees’ agency by focusing on the use and commodification of desert truffles among the Sahrawi refugees of Western Sahara. Historically, desert truffles of the genera Terfezia and Tirmania have been an important food and medicinal resource for Saharan nomads. Today, after becoming refugees following war and forced displacement, the Sahrawi still harvest truffles for their use values, but most are sold in the Algerian town of Tindouf. This paper addresses Sahrawi food, medicinal, and veterinary uses of desert truffles, and the on–going process of commodification sustained by a high international demand and the need for cash income. This process of commodification has both helped refugees to generate income and triggered a recovery of traditional knowledge around desert truffles. However, it has also led to increasing harvesting pressure and competition among truffle collectors, thus giving rise to the risk of unsustainable harvest levels.

Key Words

Terfez Terfezia Tirmania medicinal use value chain Sahrawi refugees 

Una recompensa a la paciencia y el sufrimiento: La etnomicología y la mercantilización de las trufas del desierto entre los nómadas y refugiados saharauis del Sáhara Occidental. Este artículo reflexiona sobre el papel de los conocimientos etnobiológicos para los refugiados, centrándose en el uso y la comercialización de trufas del desierto entre los refugiados saharauis del Sáhara Occidental. Las trufas del desierto de los géneros Terfezia y Tirmania históricamente han sido un recurso importante para los nómadas del Sahara. Hoy en día, tras la guerra y los desplazamientos forzados, convertidos en refugiados, los saharauis aún cosechan trufas por sus numerosas propiedades, aunque comercializan la mayor parte de la cosecha con la ciudad argelina de Tinduf, a fin de obtener algunos ingresos económicos. En el presente trabajo se aborda el uso alimentario, medicinal y veterinario de las trufas del desierto entre los saharauis, y su actual proceso de mercantilización gracias a la alta demanda internacional. Este proceso ayuda a los refugiados a realizar actividades que les generan un ingreso, al mismo tiempo que ha favorecido la recuperación de los conocimientos tradicionales en torno a la trufa del desierto. Asimismo, la comercialización de trufas ha dado lugar a un aumento de intensidad de la cosecha y a una competición entre cosechadores, abriendo la posibilidad de niveles de recolección insostenibles.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriele Volpato
    • 1
  • Davide Rossi
    • 2
  • Domenico Dentoni
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Faculty of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.Management Studies Group, School of Social SciencesWageningen University and Research CentreWageningenThe Netherlands

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