The world’s forests could play a major role in feeding our growing population. What’s more, they could improve the health of the world’s poorest – and increase their resilience to extreme events caused by climate change.
An EPQ on this topic could investigate issues around health, ecology, and who is responsible for managing the world’s forests.
How forests can transform health
While rates of hunger (insufficient access to energy) have been falling in many parts of the world, there has been little change in the rates of micronutrient deficiencies. Micronutrient deficiencies are a serious problem across much of the developing world: lack of vitamin A, for example, can cause blindness and even death.
Tree foods (such as moringa or baobab leaves in west Africa) are often rich sources of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and other nutrients. People with access to forests and tree-based ecosystems can increase their consumption of healthy foods, and eat a more diverse diet.
Forest foods often provide a ‘safety net’ during periods of other food shortages caused by crop failure, as well as making important contributions during seasonal crop production gaps.
Bushmeat is often the main source of animal protein available to forest and forest-boundary communities, serving as an important source of iron and fat, and diversifying diets. Insects are a cheap, available source of protein and fat, and to a lesser degree carbohydrate. Some species are also considered good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Managing forest-food landscapes
Forests and tree-based systems can contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on Hunger. Because trees, with their well-developed root systems, can survive periods of drought better than annual crops, they will become increasingly important as climate change causes more extreme weather events.
But this requires effective management and improved governance of ‘nutrition sensitive’ ecosystems.
Businesses or communities may want to cut down forests for agriculture, or to build on.
Countries and communities need to balance the needs of agriculture, food production, biodiversity, maintaining carbon stores and human well-being. This is a difficult challenge, and the people who benefit most from the forests may be those who have the least say.
Based on the work of Dr Bhaskar Vira, University of Cambridge
- ‘Forests are “key feature” of food security landscape’ – This BBC article reports on a report published as a result of a collaboration between 60 leading scientists from around the world
- ‘Using tree food recipes to combat malnutrition’ – This BBC article looks at how communities in the Sahel region of Africa use tree foods to combat malnutrition
- Micronutrient Deficiency – A brief introduction to the importance of micronutrient deficiency from the World Health Organisation
- Nutrition-sensitive landscapes – This infographic and short article from Biodiversity International explains the concept of nutrition-sensitive landscape in more detail: