12 Managing limited wild resources
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12 Managing limited wild resources book
It is common for hunter-gatherers to rely substantially on plant foods to supplement what hunting brings in, edible wild plants comprising a considerable part of these people’s diets. But this appears not to be an option in the New Guinea Highlands. The montane forest has insufﬁcient wild plants to make up the dietary difference. Only two yield substantial amounts of food, pandan nuts and fungi. Both are erratically seasonal and for large periods of time yield insufﬁciently to support a human population, unlike some wild/semi-wild/cultivated plants at lower altitudes that feature prominently in diets, such as sago palms and coconuts. Other wild plant foods are markedly less common in the Highlands, except for tree ferns, which are
unpalatable without meat. These observations chime in with the argument that, regardless of their bountiful reputation, which derives in considerable part from their applauded biodiversity, tropical rainforests could not support isolated hunter-gatherer populations. Such people need to interact with cultivators to supply some of their needs because of the variable and dispersed nature of wild foods, and in particular their low carbohydrate contents (Hart and Hart 1986; Headland 1987; Bailey et al. 1989; Bailey 1990; Townsend 1990; Bahuchet et al. 1991; Bailey and Headland 1991). According to some commentators the ‘resources in undisturbed tropical rain forests may be so poor, variable and dispersed that they cannot support viable populations of hunters and gatherers’ (Bailey et al. 1989: 62). If this argument pertains for the rainforests of Africa and Amazonia with their varied game populations featuring some large animals, it will apply with twice the force to those of Oceania for, ‘relative to rain forests elsewhere in the world those of New Guinea have an impoverished fauna’ (Dwyer and Minnegal 1991b: 192).