A Reward for Patience and Suffering: Ethnomycology and Commodification of Desert Truffles among Sahrawi Refugees and Nomads of Western Sahara

Publication Type: 
Journal Name: 
Volume: 
67
Number: 
2
Page Numbers: 
147–160
Published On: 
2013

 This paper reflects on the role of ethnobiological knowledge and practices for refugees’ agency by focusing on the use and commodification of desert truffles among the Sahrawi refugees of Western Sahara. Historically, desert truffles of the genera Terfezia and Tirmania have been an important food and medicinal resource for Saharan nomads. Today, after becoming refugees following war and forced displacement, the Sahrawi still harvest truffles for their use values, but most are sold in the Algerian town of Tindouf. This paper addresses Sahrawi food, medicinal, and veterinary uses of desert truffles, and the on–going process of commodification sustained by a high international demand and the need for cash income. This process of commodification has both helped refugees to generate income and triggered a recovery of traditional knowledge around desert truffles. However, it has also led to increasing harvesting pressure and competition among truffle collectors, thus giving rise to the risk of unsustainable harvest levels.