Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe use the woodlands and rangelands in their community for the collection of products such as firewood, wild fruits and insects, and for the grazing of their livestock. We interviewed 25 farmers, divided over three wealth classes, about the collection and consumption of these so-called NTFRPs (Non-Timber Forest and Rangeland Products) in general and specifically at times of crop failure due to bad weather, usually drought. Farmers were able to name over 130 species of wild plants, insects, mushrooms and animals that were collected from the woodlands and rangelands. The most valued species were Julbernardia globiflora (firewood), Brachystegia spiciformis (firewood), Uapaca kirkiana (fruit), Parinari curatellifo lia (fruit), ‘flying termites’ (insect), ‘cape hare’ (animal) and Azanza garckeana (fruit). In good years, households collected on average 4511 kg/year of firewood, 599 kg/year of construction poles, 553 kg/year of leaf litter, 239 kg/year of U. kirkiana, 62 kg/year of P. curatellifolia, 54 kg/year of Strychnos spinosa (fruit) and 36 kg/year of Amanita zambiana (mushroom).
In bad years, the consumption of P. curatellifolia increased significantly to 489 kg/year, and the time spent on the collection of both U. kirkiana and P. curatellifolia also significantly increased. For the other products, there were no significant differences between good years and bad years. There was also no significant difference in consumed quantities of any of the products between poor and wealthier farmers, both in good years and in bad years. To look at the NTFRPs in terms of food security, we analysed the contribution of edible NTFRPs to the total energy intake.
In good years, all farmers in our sample consumed enough energy to remain above the hunger line, and wealthier farmers consumed more energy than poor farmers. NTFRPs only contributed a minor quantity of the total energy; the major share of energy came from cultivated maize and pulse crops. In bad years, the energy consumption dropped below the hunger line for both the poor and the wealthy farmers in at least some seasons. For wealthier farmers, about 22% of the energy supply came from wild fruits (especially U. kirkiana and P. curatellifolia) in bad years and for poor farmers, wild fruits supplied up to 42% of the total energy intake.
Our data show that wild foods, especially wild fruits, are consumed in large quantities at times of crop failure. Additionally, our analysis suggests that wild fruits contribute greatly to the energy intake of especially poor farmers in bad years. The results of our study support the hypothesis that wild foods can help to reduce food insecurity at times of crop failure due to extreme climatic events.