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2.3 The contribution of forest food resources to the household food security

The first sections of this paper demonstrate that there are many useful food products to be gleaned from forested areas. The main reasons that forest food resources are exploited are:

Forest fuels are also important for ensuring and enhancing food security. They provide energy for processing otherwise inedible foods and for preserving foods to counteract seasonal shortages. The contributions forest foods make to food security can be characterized in three main ways: providing a supplementary source of food, as seasonal foods in the diet, and as emergeny food supplies during periods when others are unavailable.

2.3.1 The Supplementary Role of Forest Foods

Some forest food, especially leaf vegetables and wild animals, are used on a year-round basis in rural communities. Fleuret (1979) and Tallantaire (1975) both found that wild leaves are an essential ingredient

of the daily diet on a year-round basis. They add diversity and flavouring to the diet thus encouraging greater food consumption. In addition they provide vitamins and minerals to characteristically grain-dominated diets.

Newman (1975) found that the Sandawe consume gathered plants with 45% of their meals on a year-round basis. The use of gathered plants is not seasonal: he found that at least two or three different species were used on a monthly basis. Many pastoralists do not store and carry food over long distances, but rely on the seasonal products of forested areas. Thus, while the use of specific species may be seasonal, overall they rely on the year-round supply of forest food products to supplement their diet (Benefice and Chevassas-Agnes 1981).

Some forest foods are available on a year-round basis. Boscia senegalensis is used year-round as a dietary staple by the Peuhls of Senegal (B. Becker 1983). Few studies which examine the use of wild animals for subsistence consumption discuss the seasonality of the resource. It is likely that the supply of rodents and other small animals is continuous year-round, though their consumption may be seasonal. Immink et al. (1981) demonstrate in their study on Puerto Rican home gardens, that these systems provide year-round supplies of vitamins, protein, and energy. In addition, processed forest food products (e.g. parkia or dawadawa) also provide a year-round supplement to the diet. Campbell-Platt (1980) found that fermented dawadawa could be stored for over a year.

Often, the most common use of forest and tree farm fruits is as snacks or supplementary foods. Few studies have attempted to examine the extent to which snack fruits are eaten, nor the nutritional value they impart. Most nutrition studies focus their attention on meals or local markets. Thus, the snack foods are rarely considered. The term "snack" somehow implies "peripheral" and yet some studies suggest that fruits are often consumed in large quantities during the agricultural planting seasons (especially as food is in short supply and food preparation time is reduced).

Traditionally, people eat fruit between meals "on the job," herding, gathering, or working in the fields. Thus, food trees are commonly found near fields and other workplaces.

Ogle and Grivetti (1985) include information on snack food consumption in their study in Swaziland. They measured the frequency of consumption, recording the number of times interviewees remembered eating a product during its fruiting season. They identified 53 species that were recognized by' more than 50% of the adults. Twelve species were used frequently (more than twice weekly) by more than 50% of the adults. They found that 50 species were consumed more frequently by children. Some species were designated as children's food. The children in the study areas were knowledgable about the wild food resources of the area. They were also the more frequent users of fruits. Ogle and Grivetti noted that most children have long walks to school (as there are none in the nearby area), and eat fruit and other wild foods on their way to and fro. They also noted that the children's consumption of fruit was nutritionally important.

2.3.2 The Seasonal Importance of Forest and Farm Tree Foods

The most well-documented and important use of forest foods is in meeting seasonal food needs. Most agricultural communities suffer from seasonal nutrition gaps known as "hunger periods." They generally occur at the end of the dry season and the beginning to middle of the rainy season (Longhurst 1985, Hassan et al. 1985, Hussain 1985, Ogubu 1973, Chambers and Longhurst 1986).

Seasonal nutrition problems are not necessarily confined to the natural cycle of dry and wet seasons, institutional factors also cause food shortages. For example, mass education causes an exodus of farm labor and a need for lump-sum cash for school fees. Truscott (1986) notes that farmers rely on year-round sales of vegetables for their cash-food needs, whereas the cash from crop production is saved to pay the large lump-sum expenditures of school fees and fertilizer purchases. In his discussion of introduced seasonalities, Moris (1985) notes that school fees must generally be paid on an administrative calendar which does not necessarily correspond with the crop production cycle. As a result, the timing of crop payments within the calendar year may not correspond to periods of cash need (thus shrinking the amount of money available for food purchases). Chambers et al. (1979) argue that administrative seasonalities, such as disruption of rural services, can create or worsen climatic/seasonal food shortages. Rural transportation and supplies are frequently subject to disruption, as fuel and spare parts are often in short supply.

Annegers (1973e) found that food supply in the Sahelian and Sudanian zones of West Africa was seasonal, whereas there was no seasonal food shortage in the Guinean zone. Gathering of fruits and nuts, as well as game hunting, were most common in the off-peak agriculture seasons. In Bangladesh there are two lean seasons (corresponding to pre-rice harvest periods). Hassan et al. (1985) found that vegetables were available year-round, while tree fruits were available principally during one of the lean periods. In the traditional (as opposed to modern) villages, the use of roots and tubers increases greatly during one of the lean seasons; the use of vegetables decreases somewhat in the lean period (although year-round consumption is appreciably higher than for all other foods except rice). Fruits are consumed in great quantities during the May-June lean period (contributing 191 g./cap./day in that period compared with 1 g./cap./day in the post-rice harvest season). The use of fish is also seasonal: it is greatly increased in one of the lean seasons (going from 10 g./cap./day to 36 g./cap./day in October and November).

In Senegal, B. Becker (1983) found that wild foods were most commonly used to meet seasonal shortages of vitamins which occur at the beginning of the wet season. She notes that most fruits used do not fruit in the lean period, but rather at the end of the wet season.. Harvesting of fruits occurs in the same period as agricultural crop haravesting. Only two fruit species, Boscia spp. (year-round fruiting) and Sclerocarya spp. (end of the dry season) fruit during the "hunger period." This example serves to illustrate the point that not all tree food production corresponds with seasonal food needs.

In Swaziland, wild food plants are more intensively used in the spring and summer months. However, 56% of the population reportedly use wild food on a year-round basis. Wild leaves were most commonly used in the spring and summer while fruits provided the main source of vitamin C during the winter and spring. In addition caterpillars, termites and bees are consumed seasonally (Ogle and Grivetti 1985).

In northern Brazil, the fruiting season of Babassu palm corresponds to the off-peak agricultural period. May et al. (1985a) found that the fruits and kernels make significant contributions to the diet during this lean period.

In Zimbabwe, most fruits are consumed during the hunger period.

B.M. Campbell (1986) found, however, that peak collection and consumption of wild fruits did not correspond to the main fruiting season. People use the fruits as supplements when they are most needed rather than when they are most plentiful and easiest to find. Three species were found to be favourites and were selectively left in agricultural fields.

Finally, as was discussed earlier, tree fodder makes an important seasonal contribution to the diet of most livestock. In parts of Mexico, Mesquite (Prosopis tamarugo) is the main dry season fodder. In 1965 an estimated 40,000 tonnes of pods were used as fodder and sold on the market (Felker 1981). In areas of the Sahel, Acacia albida can account for 30-45% of the total livestock feed in the dry season (Wentling in New 1984).

2.3.3 The Emergency Role of Trees

Traditionally, in Africa at least, trees have been important in emergency periods, especially in times of drought, famine, and wars. They provide foods for consumption when crops fail, as well as products which can be gathered for cash income (e.g. gum arabic). In general, famine foods are different from those consumed annually or as supplements to the diet. Famine foods characteristically are more energy-rich; however they often require complicated and time consuming processing, and they have an uninteresting taste.

Irvine (1952) provides a thorough review of the emergency foods used in West Africa. He notes that rhizomes, roots, and tubers are the main sources of energy in times of famine. He describes how bark, pith, buds, sap, stems, leaves, fruit, flowers, and seeds of many species have been used as food sources. Irvine makes the distinction between periods of crop failures and severe famines. He notes that wild forest fruits are useful in the former but not in the latter. In severe famine, roots and tubers are more appropriate food sources as they tend to be good sources of energy.

For example, baobab fruits are commonly consumed during periodic food shortages, while their roots are consumed in famine periods.

Several wild plant species identified by B. Becker (1983) are used only ín times of scarcity and famine. Among them are the fibers of Grewia bicolor and the seeds of Combretum aculeatum. Wild yams (Dioscorea sp.) are commonly used famine foods. Malaisse and Parent (1985) identified several plants which are used as famine foods. One example is Encephalartos poggei, whose stems are steeped in running water for three days, then sun-dried and crushed into a fine powder. This stem is an extremely good source of energy (298 calories per 100 g.) and protein (39.2 g./100 g.) (see appendix for more details on nutrient values of roots and tubers).

In his examination of wild plant food used in Botswana, A. Campbell (1986) found that the San (bushmen) still rely on wild food resources during times of scarcity. Pastoralists traditionally relied heavily on wild food plants for their own and their livestock's subsistence: while they still use some wild plants, they only use "drought species" (those requiring cooking, drying, or soaking for consumption or storage) in severe crises. Now they tend to rely on the market economy and sell cattle or other livestock in times of food scarcity. The Batswana also traditionally used wild plants extensively, especially those which could be stored and made into meal. Now the bushlands have been cleared and plant resources are less readily available. Drought species (roots and tubers) are rarely used. Instead, the Batswana rely on employment and livestock sales.

About 150 species representing nearly one-fifth of the number of wild species consumed as food in India, Malaysia and Thailand have been identified as sources of emergency food crops (FAO 1984). The kernels of Aesculus indica and Shorea robusta, and bark of Acacia arabica, A. leucophloea, Bombax ceiba, Ehretia laevis and Premna mucronata are ground into fine flour to make traditional chapa ties (normally made out of wheat or rice flour). The tubers and other underground parts of plants like Arisaema concinnum, Dioscorea spp. etc. easily take the place of potatoes and other tuberous crops. The grains of several species of grasses particularly bamboos contribute to the bulk of the food in such periods of scarcity.

The emergency role of forest food products may be changing with increased commerialization and food relief programmes. Nonetheless, for many poorer people, forest "emergency" foods may be essential components of their diets in hard times.

2.4 Changes in the forest resource and concomitant changes in the forest resource use

Changes in forest resources, commercialization, and food use are all associated with a multitude of different economic, political, and social variables. Certainly, in many regions there have been dramatic reductions in the forest resource base. These changes have been both physical and institutional (e.g. privatization of communal grazing land). The result has been the same: a growing number of people trying to use a decreasing amount of forest resource. People's responses to these changes depend to a large degree on whether there are any available substitutes. What constitutes an "available substitute" depends on its associated costs (e.g. labor costs) and social acceptibility (e.g. taste).

As was revealed in Smith's study on bushmeat consumption among households living along the Trans-Amazon highway, the use of forest resources diminished as availability diminished in the ecologically degraded area. The use of wild animals to meet animal protein requirements decreased from 20% to 2% of the total animal protein consumed (J.H. Smith 1976).

In Botswana, the bushlands have been severely degraded in many areas; as a result, many traditional wild food species have disappeared or dwindled dramatically in numbers. The Batswana rarely use these plants anymore, relying on the foods purchased in the commercial markets. Only at the cattle posts are wild food species still used to any great extent (A. Campbell 1986). The degradation of forest food resources in the Pacific Islands has contributed to the deterioration of the traditional diet and a subsequent increase in incidence of malnutrition (Thaman 1982).

In West Africa, rodents (giant rat and grasscutter) are the most common wild animals consumed. This is due, in part, to hunting regulations which more effectively restrict exploitation of "bigger" game. In addition, the habitat for many game species has been destroyed by increased forest clearing for agriculture, timber and other productive activities (Ntiamoa-Baidu 1986). Among inhabitants of Wedza, Zimbabwe, Truscott (1986) relates that people feel their food base has narrowed and become more fragile. One of the reasons for this fragility is a decline in hunting (now illegal), which is said to have provided regular meat previously.

While Fleuret (1979) found that the use of wild plants had not diminished in Lushoto, she did find that the number of different wild species used varied by ecological zone and was least diverse in the most deforested area. Ogle and Grivetti (1985) also found that the variety of wild plants used varied according to ecological conditions. In the Lowveld, where large areas of forest remain and where agriculture is most unpredictable, the use of wild food species occurs more frequently. However, in the most altered and extensively disrupted area of Swaziland (Middleveld), more varieties of edible wild leaves are consumed than elsewhere. This situation illustrates an interesting response to the decline of indigenous wild resources, as people did not cease gathering wild plants when the indigenous species disappeared. Instead, they substituted the non-cultivated "weeds of agriculture" collected from fallow and agricultural fields.

Ogle and Grivetti have demonstrated that the use of wild plants is still of great importance in Swaziland. At the same time, their interviews revealed that many species which had once been available were either extinct or not present in exploitable numbers. The perceived reduction in species availability was associated by respondents with increases in population, expansion of agriculture, increased cattle grazing, and road construction. This decline is an important concern of 59% of the Swazi adults. The reasons given for continued use of wild plants were that they had superior taste, were culturally important, had greater health benefits, and were free. On the other hand, many felt that the use of wild plants would decline over time. The reasons given for this were decline in availability and boring or uninteresting tastes.

A. Campbell (1986) found that, in Botswana, the use of wild plants was declining due to the decline in availability, changes in attitude (wild foods are viewed as poor man's food), and changes in lifestyle (spending more time in large settlements and less time in the bushlands).

As the use of wild food resources diminishes, knowledge about them also diminishes. Several authors have noted that lack of interest among the younger generation has led to substantial losses in knowledge about edible resources. Modern formal education removes children from their environment and thus reduces their exposure to the uses of wild food plants. In Swaziland, by contrast, children have maintained high levels of recognition and consumption of wild foods. More than 50 wild fruit species were consumed in greater quantities by schoolchildren than adults. Ogle and Grivetti assert that a shortage of schools is one of the reasons for the prevalence of wild food use among the children. Fewer schools mean children must walk long distances to attend, or must board at school. In both cases, children are exposed to a greater range of plants, especially when home and school are in different ecological zones.

Changes in the rural economy have also had a negative impact on nutrition in some cases. While it is often assumed that increased income and assimilation into a cash economy will raise the nutritional status of a rural population, several studies have been conducted which suggest just the opposite (Longhurst, 1985). These findings have important repercussions for social forestry projects geared to raising cash income and improving nutrition, as the two do not always go hand in hand. Therefore, goals and target populations need to be well defined and nutrition problems and goals well understood.

In a cash crop oriented area of Usambara, Tanzania, Korte (1972) compared anthropometric measures of children from families who grew vegetables as a cash crop with those who came from households which did produce cash crops. He found more evidence of malnutrition among children coming from cash-oriented households. Either the money earned from cash-cropping could not provide a food supply comparable to that provided by "staple-food" agriculture, or nutritionally inferior cash crops were being substituted for nutritionally superior traditional foods in the diet. By contrast, Attems (1967 in Fleuret 1979) studied three communities with differing degrees of commercialization and found that increasing commercialization and cash production improved calorie supply, and that the least commercially-oriented society was least able to satisfy caloric (and, by implication, nutritional) needs.

Another response to the declining availability of resources is to protect or incorporate those resources into the farming system. In Zimbabwe, B.M. Campbell (1986) found that residents in the most severely deforested areas had selectively maintained their favorite wild fruit species. Thus, the frequency of consumption of the valued species did not depend on the conditions of the forest area. However, deforestation did affect the prevalence and use of other less-favoured wild fruit species. Several authors have noted that increasing numbers of farmers are incorporating fruit trees into their farm systems (Neunhauser et al. 1986, Gielen 1982). This is in part due to commercialization. However, also important is the provision of food resources on a year-round basis.

Commercialization is generally thought to diminish people's consumption and use of wild food resources. Campbell found that, in Botswana, the consumption of wild food plants had been replaced by more conveniently used commercial products. On the other hand, Ogle and Grivetti's study in Swaziland, Fleuret's study in Tanzania, and Campbell-Platt's study in West Africa all show that, despite commercialization, the extent of consumption of wild food plants is still important. In some cases, commercialization has created a market for forest resources. Campbell-Platt (1980) noted that dawadawa (Parkia sp.) was commonly sold in the markets of Accra, Ghana (formerly well out of dawadawa's consumption range).

Asibey (1978) has clearly demonstrated that there is a commercial market for game meat in West Africa. The average price of game meat was higher than that for domestic livestock meat in all markets surveyed in West Africa. Many authors note the "roadside sale" of different forest food products. However systematic studies have not been conducted on the extent of these commercial gathering endeavors. They indicate, however, that forest food products are highly valued among rural people.

2.5 Incorporating nutrition issues into forest activities

In general, forest foods are not, nor can they become, dietary staples. However, the contributions of forest resources to household food security are important, and should no longer be viewed as "minor." They have traditionally met and still can meet specific dietary needs if they are managed for their food resources. The role of forest food products should be clearly understood before planning and managing their increased utilisation. The following discussion sketches some relevant issues for planning how nutritional needs can be incorporated into forestry activities.

Identifying nutrition issues

An understanding of the nutrition problems and shortfalls in the local diet as well as labour requirements (thus, periods of high energy demand) are needed for forestry projects to direct their activities to addressing nutrition problems. For example, in some areas, specific vitamins may be in short supply (e.g. niacin in maize-based diets). In others, energy may be inadequate. An analysis of the seasonal shortages of nutrients in the diets of the Peuhls (from Senegal) provides a good example of the kind of information required for planning (see Figure 2.3). Seasonal deficits of energy, vitamins A, B, and C occur at the beginning of the rainy season. The peaks of vitamin A and C consumption correspond to high consumption of Cassia obtusifolia leaves, which are rich sources of these vitamins. In this case, species producing vitamin rich foods during the June/July period would be most useful (nutritionally). This type of nutrition information can be used in conjunction with ecological (e.g. fruiting periods), cultural (e.g. food preferences), and economic information (e.g. periods of labour shortage).

However, knowing the nutrient/nutrition problems alone is not enough. An understanding of cultural tastes and traditions may be important as they can preclude the adoption of introduced foods. In addition, the timing of cash needs and the timing of crop payments or other sources of income also need to be considered. Many such institutional seasonalities can influence resource-use patterns. Tree crops which produce marketable goods to fill these institutionally created hard times can also directly affect household food security. The periods of labour peak (thus high energy demand) have important repercussions on the use of forest foods and nutritional needs of rural populations.


Source: B. Becker, 1983

The potential for community forestry programmes

The trend in community forestry projects recently has been a move from fuelwood production to "multiple use," which includes food production, generally of fruit and nuts. A few assumptions and myths seem already to have emerged in these projects:

There is great potential for community forestry programmes to address the nutrition aspects of forestry. Often, rural people are already exploiting forests and farm trees for food resources. There is therefore already an interest in these products. The potential for these programmes to help meet important nutrition gaps can be summarized as follows:

Supplementary role: forest species incorporated should be those geared to meeting daily diet needs as well as providing foods of cultural importance. Selection of species would vary depending on specific needs.

Seasonal role: forest species selected should produce fruit during food stress periods. Incorporation of snack foods can be especially useful in periods of heavy agricultural labour, where energy requirements are greater and food preparation time reduced. Research may be required to identify species which leaf and fruit during the desired time periods.

Emergency role: a different series of food resources are needed during these periods. Root products become more important than fruits, as they provide more calories and are more persistent in droughts. Before trees are introduced as emergency drought species, however, it should be known how these trees perform in drought conditions where productivity is often low or non-existent. In addition, the time and land investment for emergency foods may be too great for the perceived risks involved.

Management of natural forest areas

There is a great potential for the management of natural forest areas for their food resources, as these resources are well appreciated by resident populations. However, a difficulty presents itself in light of high population pressures. How can managers protect the forest food resource from overuse while maintaining an interest in it through sustained use? The answer lies in positive and flexible management. In the past, "management" has often entailed collection of taxes. Protection and development (through selection) of the forest food resources are essential, as are usuary rights which reflect the nutritional needs of local populations. Access to forest areas is essential if forest resources are to be used and appreciated. Though in some cases open access would result in rapid degradation, nonetheless, restrictions of forest access need to be flexible, noting that the most important nutritional value of forest foods is the buffer they provide in emergency periods and during seasonal food shortages.

Forest fruit and nut species are generally found in low densities in natural stands. Protection and selection of food tree species can lead to increased densities. Forest areas can be managed for the production and protection of wildlife and fish species. Wildlife habitat management could include the development of wildlife food resources such as selection for fodder trees, small clearings, and buffer strips along stream edges.

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