Forest foods and healthy diets: quantifying the contributions

Type Journal Article - Environmental Conservation
Title Forest foods and healthy diets: quantifying the contributions
Volume 44
Issue 2
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2017
Page numbers 102-114
Forested landscapes provide a source of micronutrient
rich food for millions of people around the world. A
growing evidence base suggests these foods may be
of great importance to the dietary quality of people
living in close proximity to forests – especially in
communities with poor access to markets. Despite
widespread evidence of the consumption of forest
foods around the world, to date, few studies have
attempted to quantify the nutritional contributions
these foods make. In this study we tested the
hypothesis that the consumption of forest foods can
make important contributions to dietary quality. We
investigated the dietary contributions of wild forest
foods in smallholder dominated forested landscapes
from 37 sites in 24 tropical countries, using data
from the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN).
We compared quantities of forest foods consumed
by households with dietary recommendations and
national average consumption patterns. In addition,
we compared the relative importance of forests and
smallholder agriculture in supplying fruits, vegetables,
meat and fish for household consumption. More than
half of the households in our sample collected forest
foods for their own consumption, though consumption
patterns were skewed towards low-quantity users.
For high-quantity consuming households, however,
forest foods made a substantial contributions to
their diets. The top quartile of forest food users
in each site obtained 14.8% of the recommended
amounts of fruits and vegetables, and 106% of the
reference quantity of meat and fish from forests. In
13 sites, the proportion of meat and fish coming from
forests was greater than from domestic livestock and
aquaculture, while in 11 sites, households procured
a greater proportion of fruits and vegetables from
forests than from agriculture. Given high levels
of heterogeneity in forest food consumption, we
identify four forest food use site typologies to
∗Correspondence: Amy Ickowitz e-mail:
characterize the different use patterns: ‘forest food
dependent’, ‘limited forest food use’, ‘forest food
supplementation’ and ‘specialist forest food consumer’
sites. Our results suggest that while forest foods do
not universally contribute significantly to diets, in
some sites where large quantities of forest foods
are consumed, their contribution towards dietary
adequacy is substantial.

Related studies