Among the wild food, yams especially the species belonging to the genus Dioscorea (lesser yam) occupy a unique place in the food basket of indigenous tribal communities and serve as a ‘lifesaving’ plant group to marginal farmers and forest-dwelling communities, during periods of food scarcity. We describe here the knowledge and practices of Kattunaikka with reference to conservation using ethnotaxonomical knowledge and sustainable utilization of Dioscorea. This is the result of a study conducted in Wayanad district – a hot speck in the Southern Western Ghats at different intervals covering all the important seasons and exploring different habitat types. The present study clearly shows that the ethnic communities use simple and convenient techniques for classifying the species that have utility value to them. They even understand the population of Dioscorea in each locality and do the harvesting in a sustainable manner. The method of classification by using the utilitarian character is part of their livelihood; hence, the classification methods originate spontaneously. However, in case of scientific system for delimiting the taxa, evidences from folk system of classification have not been recognized. It is true that understanding the folk system of classification is very difficult as the researcher has to think from the stakeholder (tribal) viewpoint. Folk system of classification will be a strong area of knowledge in the future in respect of the conservation and sustainable utilization of wild relatives of edible plants. The study revealed much valuable information not only pertaining to the edibility of Dioscorea but also its genetic diversity and thereby opening up the basis for correct identity of many of the taxonomically confusing taxa of this genus. The research findings open up the scope of rewarding Kattunaikka for their efforts in conserving diversity of Dioscorea from the available national fund for biodiversity conservation under the Biodiversity Act, 2002 or PPVFR Act, 2001.

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