Wild edible plants (WEPs) refer to edible species that are not cultivated or domesticated. WEPs have a key role to play in poverty eradication, food security, diversification of agriculture, income generation, and alleviating malnutrition. WEPs are one of the alternative sources of healthy and nutritious food, and they are crucially important in supporting the global food basket in all parts of the world. Dr. Tara Devi began her career in 2007 as a project manager for the Mid-Himalayan Watershed Management Project, which aimed to improve the five primary components of water, forests, land, animal, and human health. Her work raised awareness about the importance of wild edible plants, their nutritional value, and how to conserve them through sustainable harvesting techniques with active support from SHGs, students and communities.

Need for the Initiative

Dr. Tara Devi read about resource wasting of wild edibles due to a lack of knowledge, storage facilities, and processing, and how working in this area could help to feed the expanding population and combat starvation. This inspired her to take action on the ground and whatever she did was for the betterment of the community in one way or another. For easy access to the WEPs of the Western Himalayas, she created www., that is also called as an encyclopaedia of Western Himalayan wild edible plants. Her work focuses on community capacity building and entrepreneurship in rural areas. She is very engaged in community awareness through various social media platforms, and she runs a YouTube channel where she provides information on plant resources, local culinary recipes, traditional knowledge, and spiritual beliefs of her region and its people. Dr. Tara Devi’s entire journey depicts broad knowledge of local wild plant protection, whether through plantation drives, her website, training, or workshops. Her website is an excellent resource for anyone interested in learning more about wild edible plants. The website not only provides information about the plant, but also explains how to harvest each plant in a sustainable manner. Speaking of challenges, she says, “When a woman wants to do something, everybody will have a problem.” Just like anybody else, she also faced objections from her colleagues, and had delays in getting permissions, etc. However, she was determined to go ahead with her initiative. She also had the support of people outside her circle who appreciated her work and motivated her to keep going. Despite confronting numerous hurdles at work and in the field, Tara Devi has laboured and continues to strive for the conservation of wild food plants. She intends to generate additional nutritional documentation in the near future, and she sees a lot of research possibilities in wild edible species. Apart from this, she wants to upgrade and maintain her website, which now lists 181 wild edible species and contains detailed information about them. But she will undoubtedly continue to educate people, particularly future generations, about the need for conservation.

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

Through her initiative, Ms. Tara Devi has identified wild edible species available in the high-altitude regions of the Western Himalayas as well as the forms in which they can be grown and eaten. She has created awareness among the local community and students about the importance of wild edible plants and ways to conserve them. Her aim has been to document the nutritional value of edible plants and create synergies between traditional and scientific knowledge. Her efforts have resulted in the publication of a book titled “An Illustrated Guide to some wild growing food plants of the subHimalayan region” and the establishment of her website. She has also created many Self Help Groups (SHGs) through her initiative and revived dormant ones. More than 150 SHGs are actively involved in her initiative. She has facilitated the preparation of People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) for the Bhanbard and Barto panchayats of Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh and prepared a documentary on the process of developing People’s Biodiversity Register. Her area of work has also expanded outside the Mandi district to areas such as Joginder Nagar, Kangra, Kullu, and Palampur. She trains students on identification of wild edibles and their nutritional benefits through workshops and seminars. Ms. Tara Devi also maintains a nursery of wild edible plants that are threatened or endangered in the wild such as the Moringa plant and she actively plants them during regular plantation drives as well as distributes them to the local community. Alongside this, she has developed a seed bank wherein she maintains Diaspora species such as Diaspora pentaphyla, Moringa, Bhringraj) that are collected from the wild and also through domestic cultivation. She actively uses social media to raise awareness among the larger community regarding conservation and sustainable development. Through her YouTube channel, she provides information on plant resources, local food recipes, and the traditional knowledge and spiritual belief of the local people in her region. She is currently working on a project titled “Traditional Processing of WEPs of six tehsils viz. Kotli, Mandi Sadar, Sunder Nagar, Padhar, Joginder Nagar, Thunag & Mandi District of Himachal Pradesh, their Medicinal, Nutritional & Economic Potential Plus Value Addition by Analysing Scope for Latest Processing Techniques” funded with an amount of ₹6.4 lakhs by the Department of Environment, Science and Technology, Government of Himachal Pradesh (DEST-HP). She also runs a non-Governmental organisation called Rise Up Foundation. The Minister for Rural Development & Panchayati Raj of the Government of Himachal Pradesh honoured Dr. Tara Devi for her active involvement in the preparation of the People’s Biodiversity Register of Mandi district during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was also honoured by the INTACH Mandi Chapter for her work on the conservation of traditional knowledge related to wild food plants of Mandi.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

DR. TARA DEVI, HIMACHAL PRADESH Sustainable Use of Biological Resources (Individual) SPECIAL MENTION 2021