Human Ecology

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 449–461 | Cite as

Wild Food Harvesting and Access by Household and Generation in the Talamanca Bribri Indigenous Territory, Costa Rica

  • Olivia Sylvester
  • Alí García Segura
  • Iain J. Davidson-Hunt


We contribute to a growing body of literature on wild food harvesting by examining culturally specific relationships with wild food, the extent and frequency of wild food use in forests, and young people’s wild food consumption. We gathered qualitative data in the Talamanca Bribri Territory, Costa Rica, using participant observation, interviews, and household surveys. We found that wild food consumption was related to nutrition, health, religious beliefs, identity, dietary variety, and resource availability. Consumption occurred in all households and its frequency depended upon opportunities to harvest and/or access to sharing networks. In all households, younger members consumed wild plants and in most households they also ate wild meat. All households harvested their own plants but not all households harvested their own meat. Consequently, sharing was relatively more common for meat than plants. Lastly, sharing was important for older and younger generations and women who lacked opportunities to harvest food due to health, time, school, and work constraints. Our results can be used to design forest management policies that respect community access to wild food.


Ethnobiology Forest food harvesting Hunting Food sharing La Amistad biosphere reserve Costa Rica 



Wë́ste wë́ste, thank you to our Bribri colleagues who shared their knowledge and provided guidance on how to present our research. Thank you to Carlos Morales who helped with plant identification. This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada. Information on the Centre is available on the web at This work was also supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship awarded to Sylvester and a SSHRC Grant awarded to Iain J Davidson-Hunt.


  1. Altrichter, M. (2011). Importancia de la fauna como alimento para los Indígenas Bribri y Cabécar de Talamanca. Biocenosis 25: 87–95.Google Scholar
  2. Angelsen, A., and Lund, J. F. (2011). Designing the household questionnaire. In Angelsen, A., Larsen, H. O., Lund, J. F., Smith-Hall, C., and Wunder, S. (eds.), Measuring Livelihoods and Environmental Dependence: Methods for Research and Fieldwork. Earthscan, London, pp. 107–126.Google Scholar
  3. Annegers, J. F. (1973). Seasonal Food Shortages in West Africa. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 2: 251–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aspelin, P. L. (1979). Food Distribution and Social Bonding Among the Mamainde of Mato Gross, Brazil. Journal of Anthropological Research 35: 309–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Batal, M., and Hunter, E. (2007). Traditional Lebanese Recipes Based on Wild Plants: An Answer to Diet Simplification? Food and Nutrition Bulletin 28(suppl. 2): 303S–311S.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bharucha, Z., and Pretty, J. (2010). The Roles and Values of Wild Foods in Agricultural Systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 365: 2913–2926.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bliege Bird, R., Scelza, B., Bird, D. W., and Smith, E. A. (2012). The Hierarchy Virtue: Mutualism, Altruism and Signaling in Martu Women’s Cooperative Hunting. Evolution and Human Behavior 33: 64–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Borge, C. (2011). El policultivo Indígena de Talamanca y la conservación de la naturaleza. Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad.Google Scholar
  9. Brant Castellano, M. (2004). Ethics of Aboriginal Research. Journal of Aboriginal Health 1: 98–114.Google Scholar
  10. Butler, C. (2008). Human health and forests: an overview. In Colfer, C. J. P. (ed.), Human Health and Forests: A Global Overview of Issues, Practice and Policy. Earthscan, London, pp. 13–33.Google Scholar
  11. Bye Jr., R. A. (1981). Quelites – Ethnoecology of Edible Greens – Past, Present, and Future. Journal of Ethnobiology 1: 109–123.Google Scholar
  12. Campbell, B. M. (1987). The Use of Wild Plants in Zimbabwe. Economic Botany 41: 375–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Colfer, C. J. P. (2008). Human Health and Forests: Global Overview of Issues, Practice and Policy. Earthscan, London.Google Scholar
  14. Collings, P., Wenzel, G., and Condon, R. G. (1998). Modern Food Sharing Networks and Community Integration in the Central Canadian Arctic. Arctic 51: 301–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, SAGE Publications, Inc.Google Scholar
  16. Cruz García, G. S. (2006). The Mother – Child Nexus. Knowledge and Valuation of Wild Food Plants in Wayanad, Western Ghats, India. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2: 39 doi: 10.1186/1746-4269-2-39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Damman, S., Eide, W. B., and Kuhnlein, H. V. (2008). Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition Transition in a Right to Food Perspective. Food Policy 33: 135–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Daniggelis, E. (2003). Women and ‘wild’ foods: Nutrition and household food security among Rai and Sherpa forager farmers in Eastern Nepal In Howard, P. L. (ed.) Women and Plants: Gender Relations in Biodiversity Management and Conservation, Zen Books.Google Scholar
  19. de Merode, E., Homewood, K., and Cowlishaw, G. (2004). The Value of Bushmeat and Other Wild Foods to Rural Households Living in Extreme Poverty in Demoncratic Republic of Congo. Biological Conservation 118: 573–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Delang, C. (2006). Not Just Minor Forest Products: The Economic Rationale for the Consumption of Wild Food Plants by Subsistence Farmers. Ecological Economics 59: 64–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dweba, T. P., and Mearns, M. A. (2011). Conserving Indigenous Knowledge as the Key to the Current and Future Use of Traditional Vegetables. International Journal of Information Management 31: 564–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Etkin, N. L. (1994). The cull of the wild. In Etkin, N. L. (ed.), Eating on the Wild Side: The Pharmacologic, Ecologic, and Social Implications of Using Noncultigens. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, pp. 1–24.Google Scholar
  23. Fa, J. E., Currie, D., and Meeuwig, J. (2003). Bushmeat and Food Security in the Congo Basin: Linkages Between Wildlife and People’s Future. Environmental Conservation 30: 71–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. García-Serrano, C. R., and Del Monte, J. P. (2004). The Use of Tropical Forest (Agroecosystems and Wild Plant Harvesting) as a Source of Food in the Bribri and Cabécar Cultures of the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. Economic Botany 58: 58–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Golden, C. D., Fernald, L. C. H., Brashares, J. S., Rasolofoniaina, B. J. R., and Kremen, C. (2011). Benefits of Wildlife Consumption to Child Nutrition in a Biodiversity Hotspot. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108: 19653–19656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grivetti, L. E., and Ogle, B. M. (2000). Value of Traditional Foods in Meeting Macro- and Micronutrient Need: The Wild Plant Connection. Nutrition Research Reviews 13: 31–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gurven, M. (2004). Reciprocal Altruism and Food Sharing Decisions Among Hiwi and Ache hunter-Gatherers. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 56: 366–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gurven, M., Allen-Arave, W., Hill, K., and Hurtado, M. (2001). Reservation Food Sharing Among the Ache of Paraguay. Human Nature 124: 273–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gurven, M., Hill, K., and Kaplan, H. (2002). From Forest to Reservation: Transitions in Food Sharing Behavior Among the Ache of Paraguay. Journal of Anthropological Research 581: 93–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gurven, M., Hill, K., and Jakugi, F. (2004). Why Do Foragers Share and Sharers Forage? Explorations of Social Dimensions of Foraging. Socioeconomic Aspects of Human Behavioral Ecology. Research in Economic Anthropology 23: 19–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hadjichambis, A. C., Paraskeva-Hadjichambi, D., Della, A., Elena Giusti, M. E., De Pasquale, C., Lenzarini, C., Censorii, E., Gonzales-tejero, M. R., Sanchez-rojas, C. P., Ramiro-Gutierrez, J. M., Skoula, M., Johnson, C., Sarpak, A., Hmamouchi, M., Jorhi, S., El-Demerdash, M., El-Zayat, M., and Pieroni, A. (2008). Wild and Semi-Domesticated Food Plant Consumption In Seven Circum-Mediterranean Areas. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 59: 383–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hames, R. (2000). Reciprocal altruism in Yanomamö food exchange. In Cronk, L., Chagnon, N., and Irons, W. (eds.) Human Behavior and Adaptation: An Anthropological Perspective, Aldine Transaction.Google Scholar
  33. Huss-Ashmore, R., and Johnston, S. L. (1994). Wild plants as cultural adaptations to food stress. In Etkin, N. L. (ed.), Eating on the Wild Side: The Pharmacologic, Ecologic, and Social Implications of Using Noncultigens. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, pp. 62–84.Google Scholar
  34. [INEC] Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Census (2013). Censo nacional de población y VI de vivienda: territorios Indígenas. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Census, Costa Rica.Google Scholar
  35. Johns, T., and Maundu, P. (2006). Forest Biodiversity, Nutrition and Population Health in Market-Oriented Food Systems. Unasylva 224(57): 34–40.Google Scholar
  36. Kaplan, H., Hill, K., Hawkes, K., and Hurtado, A. M. (1984). Food Sharing Among the Ache Hunter-gatherers of Eastern Paraguay. Current Anthropology 25: 113–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kehoe, M. (2014). Ethnographic explorations of the foodways of three generations of women in Kasabonika Lake First Nation. Masters Thesis. University of Ottawa.Google Scholar
  38. Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations and Contexts. University of Toronto Press Incorporated, Toronto.Google Scholar
  39. Kuhnlein, H. V., and Turner, N. J. (1991). Traditional plant foods of Canadian Indigenous peoples: Nutrition, botany and use. In Katz, S. H. (ed.) Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology Vol. 8, Gordon and Breach Publishers.Google Scholar
  40. Kuhnlein, H. V., Erasmus, B., Spigelski, D., and Burlingame, B. (eds.). 2013. Indigneous Peoples’ Food Systems and Well-Being: Interventions and Policies for Healthy Communities. FAO.Google Scholar
  41. Ladio, A., and Lozada, M. (2004). Patterns of Use and Knowledge of Wild Edible Plants in Distinct Ecological Environments: A Case Study of a Mapuche Community from Northwestern Patagonia. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 1153–1173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lansing, D. M. (2014). Discourse and the Production of Territorial Hegemony: Indigenous Peoples, the United Fruit Company and the Capitalist State in Costa Rica, 1872–1916. Journal of Historical Geography 45(1): 38–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Morales, R., Barborak, J. R., and MacFarland, C. (1984). Planning and managing a multi- component, multi-category international Biosphere Reserve: the case of the La Amistad/Talamanca Range/Bocas de Toro wildlands complex of Costa Rica and Panama. Paper presented at the First International Biosphere Reserve Congress, Minsk, USSR. Conference proceedings, UNESCO (Natural Resources Research XXI) Vol. 1: 168–177.Google Scholar
  44. Ohmagari, K., and Berkes, F. (1997). Transmission of Indigenous Knowledge and Bush Skills Among the Western James Bay Cree Women of the Subartic Canada. Human Ecology 25: 197–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pfeiffer, J. M., and Butz, R. J. (2005). Assessing Cultural and Ecological Variation in Ethnobiological Research: the Importance of Gender. Journal of Ethnobiology 25: 240–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pieroni, A. (2001). Evaluation of the Cultural Significance of Wild Food Botanicals Traditionally Consumed in Northwestern Tuscany, Italy. Journal of Ethnobiology 21: 89–104.Google Scholar
  47. Pimentel, D., McNair, M., Buck, L., Pimentel, M., and Kamil, J. (1997). The Value of Forests to World Food Security. Human Ecology 25: 91–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Posey, D. A., Frechione, J., Eddins, J., and da Silva, L. F. (1984). Ethnoecology as Applied Anthropology in Amazonian Development. Human Organization 43: 95–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Powell, B., Mandu, P., Kuhnlein, H. V., and Johns, T. (2013). Wild Foods from Farm and Forest in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 52: 451–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Power, E. M. (2008). Conceptualizing Food Security for Aboriginal People in Canada. Canadian Journal of Public Health 99: 95–97.Google Scholar
  51. Robsinson, J. (2014). Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  52. Rodriguez, M., Montiel, S., Cervera, M. D., Catillo, M. T., and Naranjo, E. J. (2012). The Practice and Perception of batida (group hunting) in a Maya Community of Yucatan, Mexico. Journal of Ethnobiology 32: 212–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ruddle, K., and Chesterfield, R. (1977). Education for Traditional Food Procurement in the Orinoco Delta. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  54. Ryan, G. W., and Bernard, R. (2003). Techniques to Identify Themes. Field Methods 15: 85–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Senaratne, A., Piyasena, A., and Wijaya, J. (2003). Changing Role of Non- Timber Forest Products (NTFP) in Rural Household Economy: the Case of Sinharaja World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. Environmental Management 32: 559–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Shava, S. (2000). The use of Indigenous plants as food by a rural community in the eastern cape: an educational exploration. Masters Thesis, Rhodes University.Google Scholar
  57. Shukla, S., and Sinclair, A. J. (2009). Becoming a Traditional Medicinal Plant Healer: Divergent Views of Practicing and Young Healers on Traditional Medicinal Plant Knowledge Skills in India. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 7: 29–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. SINAC (2012). La Amistad International Park Management Plan, Talamanca. Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Technology (MINAET), SINAC, San Jose.Google Scholar
  59. Somnasang, P., and Moreno-Black, G. (2000). Knowing, Gathering and Eating: Knowledge and Attitudes About Wild Food in an Isan village in Northeastern Thailand. Journal of Ethnobiology 20: 197–216.Google Scholar
  60. Suarez, E., Morales, E., Cueva, R., Utreras-Bucheli, V., Zapata-Rios, G., Toral, E., Torres, J., Prado, W., and Vargas-Olalla, J. (2009). Oil Industry, Bushmeat Trade and Roads: Indirect Effects of Oil Extraction Activities in a Protected Area in North-Eastern Ecuador. Animal Conservation 12: 364–373.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sylvester, O., and Avalos, G. (2009). Illegal Palm Heart (Geonoma edulis) Harvest in Costa Rican National Parks: Patterns of Consumption and Extraction. Economic Botany 63(2): 179–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sylvester, O., and García Segura, A. (2016). Landscape Ethnoecology of Forest Food Harvesting in the Talamanca Bribri Indigenous Territory, Costa Rica. Journal of Ethnobiology 36(1): 215–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sylvester, O., García Segura, A., and Davidson-Hunt, I. J. (2016a). Complex Relationships among Gender and Forest Food Harvesting: Insights from the Bribri Indigenous Territory, Costa Rica. International Forestry Review 18(2): 247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sylvester, O., García Segura, A., and Davidson-Hunt, I. J. (2016b). The protection of rainforest biodiversity can conflict with food access for Indigenous people. Conservation and Society (in press).Google Scholar
  65. Tardío, J., Pascual, H., and Morales, R. (2005). Wild Food Plants Traditionally Used in the Province of Madrid Central spain. Economic Botany 59: 122–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tuck-Po, L. (2008). Before a step too far: walking with Batek hunter-gatherers in the forests of Pahang Malaysia. In Ingold, T. and Vergunst, J. L. (eds.) Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. Ashgate Publishing Company, pp. 20–34.Google Scholar
  67. Tuhaiwai Smith, L. (2012[1999]). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Zen Books Ltd.Google Scholar
  68. Turner, N. J., and Clifton, H. (2006). “The forest and the seaweed”: Gitga’at seaweed, traditional ecological knowledge, and community survival. In Pieroni, A., and Price, L. L. (eds.), Eating and Healing. Traditional Food as Medicine. Haworth Press, Binghamption, pp. 153–178.Google Scholar
  69. Turner, N. J., and Davis, A. (1993). “When Everything was Scarce”: The Role of Plants as Famine Foods in Northwestern North America. Journal of Ethnobiology 13: 171–201.Google Scholar
  70. Turner, N. J. and Thompson J. (Eds.). 2006.’Nwana’a lax Yuup: plants of the Gitga’at People. Cortex Consulting Inc., Victoria, British Columbia.Google Scholar
  71. [UNESCO] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (2014). World Network of Biospheres (14 May 2015
  72. [UNEP] United Nations Environmental Program. (2013). World Heritage Sites: Talamanca Range- La Amistad Reserves/La Amistad National Park Costa Rica & Panama. United Nations Environment Programme. (14 May 2015
  73. Urry, J. (1999). Sociology Beyond Societies. Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  74. Villalobos, V., and Borge, C. (1998). Talamanca en la encrucijada. . Editorial Universidad Estatal A Distancia, San Jose.Google Scholar
  75. Wyndham, F. S. (2010). Environments of Learning: Rarámuri Children’s Plant Knowledge and Experience of Schooling, Family, and Landscapes in the Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. Human Ecology 38: 87–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zarger, R. K., and Stepp, J. R. (2004). Persistence of Botanical Knowledge Among Tzeltal Maya Children. Current Anthropology 45: 413–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zinyama, L. M., Matiza, T., and Campbell, D. J. (1990). The Use of Wild Foods During Periods of Food Shortage in Rural Zimbabwe. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 24: 251–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivia Sylvester
    • 1
  • Alí García Segura
    • 2
  • Iain J. Davidson-Hunt
    • 3
  1. 1.University for PeaceSan JoséCosta Rica
  2. 2.Escuela de Filología, Lingüística y LiteratureUniversidad de Costa RicaSan JoséCosta Rica
  3. 3.Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations