Making the Connections: Forests and Human Health

Food security is a priority issue in ASEAN.  Did you know that keeping forests healthy can help keep us healthy?  This is what I learned when I accompanied U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN David Carden on a visit to the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Indonesia.  CIFOR is a research organization aimed at producing scientific knowledge to inform the management of tropical forests.

CIFOR has embarked on an exciting new program to study the links between forests, food security and human nutrition. The premise of its work is that food production at all costs is the wrong model – that the focus on production is not enough to ensure food security.

 

Village Scenery Bogor
Village Scenery Bogor

We need to understand the underpinnings of sustainable working landscapes.  Scientists are studying the role of forests in supporting the provision of foods, particularly foods we need for a nutritionally balanced diet.  Forests provide many wild foods which contribute to food security by providing dietary diversity and key micronutrients (it is estimated that more than 2 billion people around the world do not get enough micronutrients in their diets, most commonly lacking vitamin A, zinc, and iron).  There is widespread use of wild fruits and vegetables around the world, especially in places with a lot of forest cover (Sunderland et al. 2013).

Ambassador Carden with CIFOR scientists
Ambassador Carden with CIFOR scientists

To test the hypothesis that forests and trees are beneficial to human health, CIFOR researchers are studying the relationship between the amount of tree cover and the quality of diets of people living in and around the forests. They found a significant positive relationship.  The next step in the research is to characterize the types of tree cover that are important as well as to collect more detailed data on people’s dietary intakes.

This integrated program of work on forests, food security and nutrition could provide the evidence base to quantify the benefits forests provide to human health, and as such, inform the ongoing important policy conversation in ASEAN on food security.

 

Sunderland, T et al. Food Security and Nutrition: The Role of Forests. Bogor: CIFOR, 2013. Discussion Paper.

http://www.cifor.org/online-library/browse/view-publication/publication/4103.html