Dormancy and revitalization: The fate of ethnobotanical knowledge of camel forage among Sahrawi nomads and refugees of western Sahara

Volpato, Gabriele; Puri, Rajindra K.


Knowledge about forage is fundamental to the survival of pastoral populations around the world. In this paper, we address the knowledge of camel forage of Sahrawi nomads and refugees of Western Sahara. We analyze the distribution of this knowledge through cultural consensus analysis and develop an explanation for intra-cultural variation based on changing processes of knowledge transmission. In total, 100 plant species were free-listed by informants, with five species (i.e., Acacia tortilis (Forssk.) Hayne, Nucularia perrinii Batt., Astragalus vogelii (Webb) Bornm., Panicum turgidum Forssk., and Stipagrostis plumosa Munro ex T.Anderson) found to be culturally highly salient. These five represent five local categories of forage that are necessary for camel management in the Western Sahara desert. The Sahrawi listed 25 forage plants that influence the taste and properties of camel milk, demonstrating that cultural values, as much as survival functions, underpin local knowledge systems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, age and nomadic experience are positively correlated with forage knowledge. Forced displacement and sedentarization are hypothesized as causes of progressive non-use of this knowledge and the lack of its transmission to younger generations of refugees. Nonetheless, across the study area, refugees are re-engaging with pastoralism and nomadism, which is leading to a revitalization of forage knowledge and its transmission. This should be regarded as an adaptation pathway for refugees.