Friday, March 1, 2013

What the heck can we do?

I am involved in orchid conservation, and a few years ago I got wind of and was asked for ideas on solving a real rough problem which is taking place in Zambia and now other equatorial and southern Africa countries. I could not come up with any good ideas. The problem was reported beautifully in a recent Orchid Digest (8-9/2012 vol 76-3) magazine article by Carol Siegel, but no one seemed to pick it up. So here it is.

People do eat terrestrial orchids everywhere, always have. The problem in Zambia is that the primary foodstuff derived from the orchids, called Chikanda, described as a meatless bologna made of orchid tubers, ground up peanuts and spices, like all food in Zambia, is very popular right now. The orchids species used, primarily Disa, Satyrium, and Habenaria (all beautiful and unresearched species), are almost extinct in Zambia.

So now the bordering countries, especially Tanzania (who have their own orchid dish called kikande, but nobody really eats it or likes it), are collecting their orchids and smuggling them into Zambia.
At this point, any kind of terrestrial orchid, edible or not is in big trouble.

The people who collect the orchids now in Tanzania, are virtually all HIV/Aids orphans or widows. It is their only livelihood. Money for the collected orchids is good, about 10-times more than the equal weight of potatoes. Chikanda, sold by the loaf, sells for 4.00 5.00 $US. Bread costs .70 cents $US.
Groups are aware of the problem and over harvesting. Land has been set aside as parks to save these orchids which is kind of working, but who wants to stop the hungry and poor collectors?

Really tough problem. The entire mature tuber is taken, leaving nothing, but the mature tubers that make flowers and seed are at the preferred eating stage .The good news is that there are some inedible species and they are left alone. There are some that believe that Chickanda is just a temporary food craze, t's just not that good, and it will pass, but we all know about acquired tastes.

One suggestion is seed harvesting and farming. Obvious remedy, but we have to think of solutions that require zero capital and replacement of income. In Turkey, salep, a very popular drink and ice-cream flavoring, is made from two species of orchis gathered from the land. Now an artificial salep has been developed. Great, but not going to work in Zambia.

What the heck can we do?

Let me know.
Orchid love