Establishing the links between forests and food

Food systems encompass more than established food chains, extending to rural populations around the world. Since 2008, CGIAR research at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (now CIFOR-ICRAF) has raised global awareness of the value of forests and agrobiodiversity in the diets of these often-overlooked populations, the role of wild meat in both diets and disease, and the impact of landscape change on food security and nutrition. The body of work on wild foods from forests shows that forests are not an obstacle to food security, but are actually an important element of it.  

In Africa, the research has shown that diets of children living in areas where there is more tree cover are better than those of children with less access to trees and forests, possibly because of a greater diversity of food both from the wild and from polycultural agriculture in tropical forest landscapes. Ongoing research is focused on the dietary impacts of oil palm expansion in Indonesia, on the contributions of wild foods to diets in Zambia and Burkina Faso and, together with experts in the fields of nutrition and medicine, on the ways in which forests, food, and infection interact in Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo 

In Africa, research has shown that diets of children living in areas where there is more tree cover are better than those of children with less access to trees and forests

CGIAR researchers at CIFOR-ICRAF have taken their wealth of research on holistic food systems and contributed to a number of internationally renowned food security publications and reports. In 2017, in its 44th session final report, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) formally recognized the role of forests and trees in dietary diversity and nutrition, based on a report on sustainable forestry for food security and nutrition by the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), which was headed by a CIFOR scientist. The report established far-reaching recommendations to put forests and trees at the core of integrated policies on food security and nutrition across agricultural sectors. CIFOR and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) also co-published the report “Towards a sustainable, participatory and inclusive wild meat sector, which was used as the basis for CBD Decision 14/7 on sustainable wildlife management. 

Research in this area has proven to be even more relevant in the era of COVID-19. Previous research by the Bushmeat Research Initiative into the links between wild meat and Ebola outbreaks have found new relevance in light of the discovery that zoonotic pathogens played a role in the spread of COVID-19. Advocacy is ongoing by researchers to highlight the roles of the wildlife trade, ecosystem degradation, and climate change as major drivers of emerging infectious diseases. 


Header photo: Ibu Rosalina cutting open a fresh pineapple after foraging in the forests surrounding her home in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by I.C. Vieira/CIFOR.

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