families, but they sell some as well. The Zaghawa spend a month or two in the areas where the wild cereals grow, often returning with three or four camel loads of grain. The various sites are visited several times, at intervals of 15-30 days. The earliest harvests usually yield the most. There is much communal cooperation. The women mentally mark off areas for themselves, cut the grass, and pile it up to dry. To foil any goats or wildlife, they cover their piles with thorny branches, and to guard against theft, they leave a symbolic stone representing each woman's clan. Livestock are barred from these areas until after the grain harvest, and herders are fined if any animals get in. It appears that the gathering actually helps maintain a good stand of wild cereals, because less useful plants (especially kram-kram) are taking over the areas where gathering is no longer practiced.


The Tonga of Zambia routinely harvest the grains of wild sorghum and Egyptian grass, and during famines they also harvest species of Brachiaria, Panicum, Echinochloa, Rottboellia, and Urochloa. They supplement these wild cereals with relishes made from leaves, most of which they also usually find in the wild. These two together provide them with sources of starch, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. They also use wild native plants for brooms, building material, fiber, salt, medicine, poisons, and so on.

South Africa

When in the 1930s the Chamber of Mines began asking about edible wild plants, its labor-recruitment offices across South Africa became overwhelmed. "We were inundated with parcels from many parts of the country containing plants or parts of plants," wrote one of the participants recently. "It became clear that a nutritionally significant part of the people's diet was being obtained from the veld."

Among the grains sent in werethose from

  • Sporobolus fimbriatus (matolo-a-maholo)

  • Brachiaria brizantha (bread grass, long-seed millet)

  • Echinochloa stagnina (bourgou)

  • Panicum subalbidum (manna grass)

  • Stenotaphrum dimidiatum (dogtooth grass)

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement