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Building nutritional considerations into forestry development efforts

C. Ogden

Cynthia Ogden is a consultant in nutritional planning and food policy analysis currently based in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA.

As criteria other than economic returns assume increasing importance in forestry development efforts, foresters and nutritionists are becoming aware of the linkages between their disciplines and recognizing the potential for incorporating nutritional objectives into forestry projects. However, only the first tentative steps have been taken in that direction.

This article first examines the linkages between forestry and nutrition and discusses efforts to promote greater awareness of these links and to stimulate the implementation of actual forestry/nutrition field-work. Special attention is given to a regional workshop held in Thailand in 1988. The article then turns to needs for further progress, and details an ongoing effort by FAO to develop a methodology and field guide for the incorporation of nutritional considerations into forestry development efforts.

IN THE PHILIPPINES - Lucina glauca used for reforestation also provides fodder and fuelwood

Linkages between forestry and nutrition

Forests and trees contribute to nutrition in several ways. Most obviously, they provide many edible products. Wild leaves and fruits contain necessary vitamins. Seeds, nuts, roots and tubers supply fats and carbohydrates. Mushrooms, gums and saps provide protein and minerals. Wild animals often supply most of the protein consumed by local people. Forest foods contribute to diet diversity, supplying nutrients or making other foods more palatable, and they are important in minimizing seasonal or emergency nutrient shortfalls.

In terms of indirect contributions to nutrition, trees help maintain a stable environment in which agriculture flourishes. They protect the land from erosion and wind while the shade they provide lowers surface temperatures. Leaf cover enriches the soil and deep-reaching tree root structures help to mobilize nutrients for food crops. Forests also improve water quality through reduced sedimentation. Forests and trees contribute to food security from foods not traditionally associated with forests through supplying the animal fodder necessary for meat, milk end dairy production. All of these environmental benefits make sustainable food production systems a reality.

Access to forest products influences the time women spend participating in subsistence activities. In most societies women perform the critical functions of feeding and caring for the family. If women have to devote extra time to collecting fuelwood and fodder, they have less time for food production and preparation, income generation and child care. A decrease in any of these activities, particularly in cooking or child care, may seriously affect the well-being of family members.

The figure, Illustrating linkages between forestry and nutrition, does not suggest that the identified factors are the only ones affecting nutritional status. Rather It focuses on those factors where forestry activities could be instrumental. On the left are the forest products and benefits often accrued from forestry projects. Moving to the right, the boxes display suggested linkages between forestry outputs and nutritional status

The relationship between fuelwood supply and nutrition is not simple and conclusive studies have yet to be undertaken (see article on p. 29 on "The impact of fuelwood scarcity on dietary patterns"). However, some experts believe that decreases in fuelwood supplies lead to reduced cooking times, paralleled by decreases in food consumption, increases in the incidence of illness from contaminated or improperly prepared food, and an inability to preserve foods properly for later consumption.

Fuelwood, forest raw materials, employment in forestry activities and medicines bring essential income to many households. For example, villagers who engage in sericulture from mulberries can earn income to purchase essential foods or those necessary to balance otherwise monotonous diets, and medicines. In addition, medicines originating from tree products for both humans and livestock help reduce the incidence of infections that contribute to or worsen malnutrition.

It is important to recognize that the potentially positive effects of forestry on nutritional well-being are not necessarily implicit in forestry development projects. Forestry projects of all kinds, from large industrial plantations to community woodlots, can and do influence the nutritional well-being of rural people; however, these influences may be positive or negative. Through increased emphasis on local needs and uses of trees and forests in all projects (not just community forestry ones), forestry can have a positive influence on nutritional status. On the other hand, by overlooking possible negative consequences such as reduced access to trees or other forest products, forestry projects may also create or exacerbate nutritional problems.

Bringing foresters and nutritionists together

In recognition of the potential impact of forestry activities on nutritional status, important initial steps are being taken toward bringing foresters and nutritionists together in development efforts. Several years ago a short article in Food and Nutrition (Hoskins, 1985) introduced the concept of forestry and nutrition to a predominantly nutritionist audience. The author pointed to foresters' need for relevant information about nutrition in the perspective of forestry and overall rural development. She also stressed the need both for awareness among nutritionists of the potential of forestry activities as a tool and for ways to:

"identify nutritional impacts of various forestry interventions in order that foresters and other non-nutritionists may be alerted to potentially negative results. What base-line data could help following up of positive and negative impacts of projects on nutritionally at-risk groups? Foresters... are eager for useful suggestions on how to assure the most positive benefits for local communities and, at the very least, to be sure that their interventions do no nutritional harm" (Hoskins, 1985; p. 46).

More recently, using Hoskins' initial description of the theoretical links between forestry and nutrition as a starting-point, a more in-depth analysis of the subject and a literature review (of primarily English language materials) was prepared for the FAO Forestry Department (FAO, 1989). The literature review provides more than 200 specific examples of the linkages described by Hoskins.

A NUTRITIONAL LINK BETWEEN FORESTRY AND ANIMAL HUSBANDRY IN NEPAL - gathering of forest fodder rather than uncontrolled grazing can help to check upland erosion

The significance of non-timber forest products (including those consumed as food) in humid West Africa has also been documented (Falconer, in press). It is noteworthy that many of the references in both the latter volumes mentioned are drawn from sources available directly and often exclusively in Third World collections. The implication is that at least some local research has been done on the linkages between forestry and nutrition, and that a further tapping of this source could help to identify direct practical examples. The use of locally based researchers is particularly indicated, since they are much more likely to have knowledge of and access to sources such as unpublished theses or reports produced by nationally based organizations or projects.

FAO held an important regional workshop on nutrition in forestry at Khon Kaen University, Thailand in October 1988 (Ed. note: a second FAO regional workshop was held in Zambia in October 1989, shortly after this article was written). The workshop was attended by 31 nutrition and forestry experts from five countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam). To facilitate discussion at both the theoretical and technical level, participants included administrative and field-level personnel; for example, the delegation from Nepal consisted of the Chief Planning Officer from the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, the Chief of the Nutrition Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, and the National Coordinator of the FAO-assisted project "Development of income and employment through community forestry".

A major part of the workshop was dedicated to the identification of general and specific linkages between forestry and nutrition in the Asian context. Individual country presentations highlighted the differences in experiences with practical implementation.

THE THAI PROJECT was designed to introduce integrated tree and crop production as an alternative to shifting cultivation

The Nepalese participants presented a paper describing the links between degradation of the forest environment and food security in their country. The key elements identified for increasing the nutritional well-being of the Nepalese people were integrated management of forests, soils, water and livestock (Anon., 1988a). The report stressed how degradation of forest resources in Nepal is associated with soil erosion and decreased soil fertility, with a consequent increase in food shortages.

The paper noted that deforestation in Nepal has also led to competition between the use of biomass and manure as fuel and use as fertilizer. This has been particularly damaging to food production because fuel needs have generally come first. Hence, the scarcity of fuelwood supplies has greatly contributed to serious declines in soil fertility in Nepal. If fuelwood were in greater supply, permitting biomass and manures to be used as fertilizer rather than fuel, one expert has estimated that these organic fertilizers could lead to an increase in food grain production of more than one million tonnes per year, a rise of more than 25 percent (World Bank, 1978; Anon, 1988a).

A nutritional link was also identified between forest degradation and inappropriate animal husbandry practices. Nepalese forests are important sources of livestock fodder, but uncontrolled grazing in steep terrain forests is resulting in increased erosion and a decrease in fodder production.

The Nepalese paper indicated that although there is growing recognition of the link between forestry and nutrition, and many development efforts have general goals related to improvement of the nutritional well-being of rural people, few activities specifically aimed at nutritional improvement have been incorporated to date into forestry projects.

Papers prepared for the workshop by Indonesian participants (Wartaputra, 1988; Tedjokoesoemo, 1988) discuss specific forestry activities aimed at producing needed foods. For example, in several areas of Indonesia and particularly at the Perum Perhutani Forest Estate in Java, industrial afforestation activities are being carried out by intercropping trees and food crops (tumpangsari system). Local people are provided with rice production inputs such as high-quality seed, fertilizer, pesticides, etc. in exchange for work in establishing the intercropped teak plantations. Although the original intent was to provide a low-cost source of labour for plantation establishment, the paper notes that the resulting improvement in local nutrition has led to wider utilization of the tumpangsari system in industrial plantation establishment.

In other areas of Java, intercropping of subsistence crops is being encouraged as a part of reforestation efforts. The government provides mechanical preparation of the soil and guarantees access to local people. As a result' instead of being abandoned to fire-prone growth of Imperata grass, the understorey area is carefully managed for the production of´ various crops including maize, rice, beans and melons (Tedjokoesoemo, 1988).

As part of the discussion on national efforts to incorporate nutrition into forestry projects, the workshop participants also considered one of the first attempts to incorporate measurable nutritional indicators in the field-a Thai Government/FAO/UNDP project "Development of diversified forest rehabilitation in Northeast Thailand". The goal of this project, implemented from 1979 through 1986 was to rehabilitate a degraded area in the Khao Phu Luang National Reserved Forest. Using a community forestry approach. the project aimed at providing a socio-economically viable stable alternative to shifting cultivation through an integrated land use approach combining food crops and forestry activities (FAO, 1988a; Saowakontha et al. 1988).

In 1985, a nutritional survey based on the FAO methodology for integrating nutrition into agricultural projects was conducted on a limited number of schoolchildren in the Thai project area (Thompson, 1988). This methodology prescribed the analysis of traditional nutritional status information (such as height and weight) at the end of the dry or ''lean'' season in July, and at the end of the harvest period in November. The survey clearly showed that from July to November the weight (and by inference the nutritional status) of the children in the project area, increased significantly while in the control area it did not. Unfortunately, the reliance on traditional anthropometric measures of nutritional status made it impossible to isolate the effects of the specific forestry activities on the nutritional well-being of project participants. The positive change in the weight of the children could not be definitively linked to the project area forest activities.

Thus, although the Thai project represented an important step forward, it also evidenced the need for the development of a methodology based on new, nontraditional, forestry-specific nutrition indicators to enable the actual effect of forestry activities on nutrition to be measured.

GENERATING INCOME FROM FOREST PRODUCTS women processing palm oil in Togo

At the final session of the Khon Kaen workshop. the participants presented a series of specific country proposals for increasing the incorporation of nutritional considerations into forestry projects (FAO, 1988b: Anon., 1988b). The Vietnamese proposal emphasized the need for government nutritionists to work with foresters in planning and implementing projects. For example. they recommended that the results of a nutrition survey conducted in two cooperatives to determine, inter alia, food consumption habits. vital statistics and anthropometric measurements, be given to foresters. Foresters could then use this information to determine the nutrition problems forestry might be able to address. A proposal made for Nepal was similar, but distinguished between long-term objectives and short-term goals. Baseline studies and workshops comprised the short-term focus, while the long-term aspects of the proposal stressed increased employment, income generation and sustained use of forest resources. Bangladesh's proposal described the country's need for a nutritional survey of villagers and farmers. It identified several general types of forestry activity incorporating nutritional goals, including work on species selection, designed to help farmers by supplying needed nutrients or forest products; and efforts to increase forest-oriented income-generating activities such as cash cropping. In Indonesians proposal, the objectives were broadly defined as education and food production. The Thai participants suggested general forestry activities that might benefit nutrition and stressed the importance of obtaining background information on nutrition.

The draft proposals presented by the workshop participants were generally not specific enough for implementation or consideration for assistance by sources of external funding. But they evidence the emerging trend for bringing forestry and nutrition together, and highlight the need for an appropriate methodology to accomplish this in the context of forestry development efforts.

Developing a methodology for forestry and nutrition

FAO is working to develop new approaches that link forestry and nutrition. The author is currently assisting in the development of a methodology and field guide for incorporating nutritional components in forestry development projects and for ensuring that the results of these components are measurable. Although the methodology is still in draft form, and will need to be reviewed and tested in a developing country, the basic elements of the approach might be summarized as follows. First, project planners need to obtain essential background information on nutrition-related factors (food supplies and sources, income, the environment, women's time, etc.). Second, from this background information, they need to identify nutrition objectives that are compatible with the overall objectives of the project, and design and implement specific forestry activities to achieve them. Finally, they must select appropriate indicators to monitor and evaluate the nutritional impact of the project. Two elemental parts of the methodology are the definition and harmonization of the respective roles of nutritionists and foresters, and the participation of community members (Ogden, 1989). A brief exposition of the draft methodology is given below.

Obtaining background information

During the process of project formulation, specific attention must be focused on the nutrition situation in the project area. What are the particular problems in the community and which are the vulnerable groups? Foresters alone cannot answer nutrition-related questions. Nutritionists, social scientists and local people in particular must be involved in the project planning process.

WIND-BREAKS could be intercropped with shrubs to provide edible fruits or seeds

Background information must also be gathered on nutrition-related uses of trees and forests in the community. For instance, what is eaten from the forest and what is the nutrient content of these foods? This information must cover the issues relating to nutrition likely to be affected by forestry: food supply, income, the environment and women's time. Nutritionists can also help at this stage with information about any problems, their causes (and possible solutions).

Defining nutritional objectives

Based on the background information, specific nutritional objectives should be built into a given forestry project reflecting the overall project goals, the time-scale and, most important, community needs and desires. For instance, if the project were concerned with increasing fuelwood resources, a nutritional objective might be to reduce iron deficiency among local residents through the introduction of a tree species with edible, iron-rich leaves. Reducing seasonal food shortages through the introduction of multipurpose fuelwood/fruit-trees could also be a nutritional objective.

Project implementation

With regard to actual project implementation, it is important to consider the wide variety of forestry activities that relate to nutrition. Some ideas include: managing natural and plantation forests for forest food resources; incorporating forest food, fodder and medicines into farming systems in such management schemes as border plantings and hedgerows; and planting bushes or trees that provide snack foods. The specifics of these approaches might include:

· tree species selection;

· managing forests for locally needed products;

· supporting activities that maximize the benefits reaching the poor;

· compensatory programmes during periods when trees generate costs but no benefits;

· measuring seasonality and selecting locally valued trees that provide food during hungry periods;

· providing an alternative source of food during drought or periods of stress;

· creating wind-breaks with multiple functions, such as shrubs with edible fruits or seeds; and

· providing employment in nearby forest-product processing facilities.

Furthermore, projects could be aimed at increasing the diversity of products produced or sold from the forest in order to minimize risk and maximize nutrition benefits. Other activities include compensating the community for possible negative factors such as keeping livestock away from fields while trees are young perhaps by providing fodder trees for fodder banks, or providing health services if a project increases the prevalence of disease-carrying vectors.

Activities related to nutrition will necessarily vary by project. Project managers, nutritionists and community members will need to decide on specific activities based on project objectives and available resources.

APICULTURE as a nutritional component In an industrial in Latin America

Increasing food supply. If a project goal is to increase food supply, then activities may relate to forestry support for agricultural production, or direct provision of forest foods. Nutrition-related activities here might involve planting trees that produce fruit, edible leaves or animal fodder in border and boundary plantings that sustain agricultural production. It would be particularly appropriate to select species that fruit during periods of scarce agricultural production. Other activities might focus on increasing access to mushrooms, honey, nuts, leaves, fruit, roots and wild animals from the forest.

Income generation. Many forest projects have an important focus on increasing income for local people, either through the production of cash crops or through the development of small-scale forest-based enterprises. The sale of fruit, mushrooms, medicines, fuelwood and other forest materials or products provides income for women and others who are resource poor. One survey found that more than 50 percent of the villagers in a Philippine community earned an income from timber and rattan sales (Siebert and Belsky, 1985). Small-scale wood furniture industries also provide income for families in many countries.

However, the impact on nutrition of attempts to improve income-earning opportunities for the rural poor requires careful examination. Forestry projects geared to increasing cash incomes can result in deterioration of nutritional well-being in a number of circumstances, such as when a shift away from produced foods to purchased products leads to the consumption of nutritionally inferior food. Other potentially negative outcomes might be a transfer of land that reduces employment opportunities for women; a change in control over resources and funds; increases in food prices; or increased exposure of villagers to market fluctuations (FAO, 1989a). Furthermore, increasing dependency on food from outside the region because of cash crop production or improperly designed use of food aid combined with unreliable transportation systems may result in a reduction in local food supply and an increase in prices. This in turn may negatively affect the nutrition of the poorest (and therefore most vulnerable) in the community (von Braun and Kennedy, 1986).

Improving environmental conditions. As the participation of local people becomes recognized as essential for success in projects aimed at conservation and management of natural resources, the incorporation of nutrition components into these efforts becomes increasingly logical. In the long term, of course, activities aimed at improving environmental conditions are crucial to improved nutrition. Creating a sustainable production system including, for example, contour planting, leaf manure, and other actions for supporting agricultural production, is essential for long-term productivity. Watershed management efforts that address the problems of water supply and quality lessen the rates of infection. Watershed management, through the creation of a block rotation for protective regeneration, allows some forest access to residents. Natural coagulants from trees can be used to clean water (Jahn, Musnad and Burgstaller, 1986).

Industrial production. While the incorporation of nutritional objectives and activities will be easiest in projects that already have a significant social focus, it should not be limited to these efforts. In an industrial plantation project, for example, species selection that takes nutritional aspects into consideration might permit local people to use leaf prunings for fodder or green manure. Food crops might be intercropped with industrial trees while wildlife management in industrial plantations also has significant potential for improving nutrition.

Where plantations are established, it is extremely important to determine the potentially negative effects on the nutritional well-being of local people. For example, the replacement of a grazing area or multispecies natural forest with a monoculture plantation may cause a decrease in available fodder or forest foods for human consumption. Possible negative effects should be anticipated and tradeoffs made.

Monitoring and evaluation

An essential element of a methodology linking forestry and nutrition is the selection of appropriate indicators for monitoring and evaluating the effects of projects on nutritionally vulnerable individuals. Measuring the nutritional impact of a forestry project requires creative thinking.

In most cases, traditional nutritional indicators, such as anthropometric data (e.g. the height and weight of children) are not appropriate. No single indicator will be appropriate for all projects; choices will depend on project objectives and the resources and skills of the people involved. If the objective of the project is to increase employment, the number of jobs created for the nutritionally vulnerable might be an appropriate indicator of success. Agroforestry projects that seek to introduce technologies to increase agricultural productivity, to spread work across the seasons or to increase fodder, could monitor and evaluate the availability, of year-round food supply, food diversity and food storage supplies, etc. Projects that focus on the relationship between women's time and nutrition by introducing labour-saving technologies or increasing water and fuelwood supply might attempt to assess the project impact by considering time spent on child care and daily household meals.

In all cases input from the community is vital, and nutritionists have an important role in this regard. Many indicators can be selected according to how the community defines the criteria for success or failure of the project.


A great deal of progress has been made in creating awareness among foresters and nutritionists of the linkages between the two disciplines, but much remains to be done in actually incorporating nutritional considerations into forestry development projects. More thought needs to be given to identifying nutritionally vulnerable groups that would benefit from forest/nutrition-oriented projects and incorporating local perceptions into the objectives and activities of future projects. The draft methodology needs to be tested and refined, especially in terms of identifying appropriate nutrition indicators. The recent regional workshop in Zambia is expected to be an important step in this direction.

Although forestry projects alone cannot solve the problems of malnutrition have economic, political, and social causes, as an integral part of overall development efforts forestry can clearly help to address aspects of malnutrition caused by shortages in the food supply; by degradation of the environment; decreases in women's time for cooking and child care; low income; and the spread of infectious diseases. Foresters and nutritionists are beginning to work together to tap this potential, and the future looks promising.


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