Forests have abundant sources of tree foods, wild meat, fish, and edible insects, which could be a key source to end global hunger, suggest a new report released by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).
The world's forests have great potential to improve the nutrition of those in hunger mainly living in Africa and Asia and ensure their livelihoods. In fact, forests and forestry are essential to achieve food security as the limits of boosting agricultural production are becoming increasingly clear.
IUFRO, the world's largest network of forest scientists, also underlines the need for the most vulnerable groups of society to have secure access to forest foods.
The benefits of forests and trees to nutrition are manifold: Tree foods are often rich in vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients and are associated with more diverse diets. Wild meat, fish, and insects are also important forest food sources. Insects are an especially cheap, abundant source of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Particularly in Southeast Asia, many forests and agro forests (tree-based farms) are managed by local communities specifically to enhance edible insect supply.
Forests are also essential for firewood and charcoal. In developing countries, 2.4 billion households use these renewable bio fuels for cooking and heating. In India and Nepal, for example, even better off rural households depend on wood fuels.
Trees offer a multitude of ecological services. For instance, they support bees and other pollinators, which are essential for crop production including on farmland. They also provide animal fodder that enables communities to produce meat and milk, and protect streams and watersheds as habitat for fish.
Forests help the poor to make a living. According to the report, close to one out of six persons directly depend on forests for their food and income. In the Sahel region, for example, trees contribute 80% on average to household incomes, especially through nut production. Evidence also shows that worldwide the lower the level of prosperity, the higher the share of forests in household incomes.