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II. Incorporating nutrition concerns into forestry projects

Define individual roles
Obtain background information
Define nutritional objectives
Decide on forestry and nutrition activities
Use nutrition indicators to monitor and evaluate projects

The first section of this manual described the theoretical links between forestry and nutrition. It will now address a series of questions such as: how can foresters incorporate nutrition into forestry projects; how do foresters link their knowledge of trees with the nutritional well-being of villagers?

The following guidelines provide an approach to incorporating nutrition into forestry projects when nutritional well-being is an overall project goal. They correspond to five steps: define roles; obtain background information; define specific objectives; decide on activities; and monitor and evaluate the project. The steps are not arranged in a sequence, they need to be adjusted to suit individual circumstances. For example, often the goals and objectives of the project will need to be determined prior to defining roles as they relate to nutrition objectives. Several steps, information collection for example, may have to be repeated as the project evolves. Finally it must be noted that the steps cannot be followed individually. That is, they must be completed keeping in mind the other elements of the process. Objectives may need to be reexamined given time and personnel limitations. The worksheets should be used to help tailor the approach.

An essential element of this methodology is the active participation of community members in all aspects of the project. By increasing the attention that is paid to local needs and uses of trees and forests in all forestry projects (not just community forestry projects), forestry can have a positive influence on nutritional well-being.

Define individual roles

If there are no nutritionists involved, who will be responsible for the nutrition part of the project? If a nutritionist is involved, at what stage and level will she/he be included? Worksheet A contains a list of some of the questions that may help clarify individual roles in the project.

Worksheet A

Objective: to determine the people that will be involved in the nutrition dimensions of the project and what role, if any, nutritionists will play.
Responsibility: project designer, staff and the community


1. What role do nutrition considerations play in the project?

2. How much time and how many people are needed to complete the tasks associated with the nutrition-related aspects of the forestry project?

3. Who is on the team?

4. If a nutritionist is part of the team, what is her/his responsibility?

5. Will a nutritionist be hired as a consultant? If so, what will she/he be contracted to do?

6. Is there a nutritionist that can act as a resource person? If so, what information can she/he provide?

7. To what extent can community members work to set nutrition goals and objectives, implement the plan and/or monitor progress?

8. If no nutritionist is involved, who will be responsible for the nutrition dimension of the project?

Obtain background information

Identify resources and collect data
Review basic information

Obtaining background information is an ongoing process. Team members must identify resources, including local people, sources of existing information, and methods for obtaining additional information. Then, together with the community, the team reviews basic information and/or collects additional information about the physical and socioeconomic characteristics, nutrition/food security concerns, and the use of forests and trees in the project area. Appendices 2 and 3 contain a list of sources and detailed background questions.

Identify resources and collect data

Rapid rural appraisal in northeast Thailand

Using rapid appraisal techniques, Somnasang et al. examined the use of natural food resources in northeast Thailand. Specifically, the researchers were interested in the sources of foods; kinds of foods; quantities and availability; factors influencing quantity and source; methods of acquisition; preparation and cooking methods; roles of taste, attitudes and beliefs; and methods of preparation. The information was used to evaluate effects of changes in farming patterns on nutrition. The primary techniques for gathering information were semi-structured interviewing, direct observation, and photography. The methods were fast, comprehensive and ideal for planning a more detailed study. Using a set of guidelines for the interviews, researchers visited eight villages in three provinces once during each of the different seasons in 1984-1985. In total 15 days were devoted to the field portion of the study (Somnasang et al. 1988).

Many individuals are potential sources of information. Interviews provide valuable insights into who has access to resources and how local people define poor diet. Possible key informants are health officials, project staff, extension workers, NGO workers (including religious organizations), teachers, leaders, and local nutritionists. In regard to nutrition, it is especially important to interview women's groups as women are generally in charge of feeding and caring for the family. Often, these groups can supply information about food, medicine and health in the community. Moreover, they will be able to suggest nutrition objectives and indicators that are of local concern. Project managers and planners may also want to visit a limited number of carefully selected men and women farmers of different strata and the landless to discuss issues of crops, income, and uses of trees and their products. Once the nutritionally vulnerable have been defined, they, themselves, may be able to provide critical information about their situation, its causes, and how they would like to see the problems addressed.

In addition to interviews, visual inspection can be extremely helpful. Direct observation and photographs of routine activities in the forests (or involving trees) will provide some information about who uses the land and for what purposes. Photographs of children may provide an indication of acute nutrition problems.

Other possible resources are printed materials. A literature search of the area describing class/caste distinctions, and resource uses in terms of tenure and access, can contain information about nutrition and forest use. The search should be done across different fields of thought, among them history, political science, economics, anthropology, and ethnobotany. The search will help to determine those groups that may be nutritionally vulnerable, those who benefit from activities aimed at particular resources, and possibly, the uses of trees and forests. Health studies (including those on traditional health practices) and records of malnutrition and infection will give a picture of the nutrition problems in the area. Nutritional surveys and studies of the causes of malnutrition in an area provide additional information about the nutrition situation in the project area. Appendix 2 lists some sources of information and Table 1 in Section I lists different types of information used in determining nutritional well-being.

When defining the resources that will be tapped for useful information, the planners always need to consider the personnel, time and resource availability. For example, photographic or video equipment may not be reasonable options because they are too expensive or unavailable. Additionally, the level of expertise of collectors and the amount of time and energy the project may want to spend training on techniques of collection need to be considered and determined.

Consideration must also be given to the kinds of information that will really be needed. It is tempting to try to access every available, potential information source, but this often isn't helpful. The only information that needs to be collected is that which can and will be used. Some information may be extremely important. For example, the information that is gathered before a project begins can provide baseline information for monitoring, evaluation and indicating project efficacy.

Finally, the data analysis resources that are available must also be a factor when deciding what information to collect. While it is nice to plan for collection of all relevant data, it is not always feasible or desireable.

Worksheet B

Objectives: to identify information sources, including local people, printed material and others.
Responsibility: team members and the community


1. What are the information needs of the project at this stage?

2. What are the existing sources of information about the community and the women and men that live there (see also Appendix 2)?

e.g. local people:

teachers (school or college)
health staff (nurses, paramedics, doctors)
development staff
religious leaders
community groups and their leaders
agricultural extension officer
community nutritionist
government serials and other government reports

3. Which of these sources are accessible?

4. Is additional information needed beyond these existing sources? If so, is rapid rural appraisal appropriate? Interviewing? Photography?

5. How much labour is available to gather and analyse information (either within the staff or the community)? What is the skill level of the collectors? Are they capable of doing the necessary research and collection? Does the project want to train either collectors or analysts?

After the information needs and the optimal data sources have both been determined, collection can begin. What are the particular problems in the community and who are the vulnerable groups? What criteria are used for determining nutritional vulnerability? For example, are the nutritionally vulnerable those households that face seasonal food insecurity, or are they children under five? Community input is especially important, as the community's assessment of the project, based on their own needs, should be the basis for the foresters' assessment of the sustainability of the project's initiatives. Local people's information needs can be included as part of project information needs. Information must flow in both directions between the community and the project planners.

Information must be gathered on the uses of trees and forests that are directly or indirectly related to nutrition in the community. Who eats what foods from the forest, and what are the foods' nutrient content? Are there seasonal variations in diet and food supply? It is also essential to determine who eats what snack foods; what products are sold, what foods purchased. Appendix 3 lists questions to facilitate information collection.

Review basic information

Once all of the information is collected it must be reviewed. The information that is obtained will be helpful in determining project objectives and activities. For example, if blindness from vitamin A deficiency was found to be a local problem, project objectives might be to reduce the incidence of vitamin A deficiency by supplying selected perennials to the community. Certain perennials are good sources of carotene,6 and might be supplied to the nurseries in a school planting programme. Changes in the incidence of blindness may be difficult to monitor in the short-term. However, forestry project planners can monitor the food sources rich in carotene that are available to those family members and groups prone to this deficiency.

6 The body converts carotene into Vitamin A. There are several different carotenes; one of these, beta carotene, is the most important source of vitamin A in African diets (Latham 1979).

Information gathering may be important but information needs will change. Information obtained after a project has begun may be more valuable than, or at least complementary to, background data.7 Information on local forest/tree use and nutrition problems can be used to make modifications or additions to project objectives and/or activities. Moreover, a nutritionist can be consulted at any time throughout the project in order to provide further information.

7 Possible advantages of data gathered "in progress" include:

1. The team can perhaps have more confidence in data that they have gathered themselves.
2. Background data may be outdated.
3. Team-gathered data can serve as a cross-check of the reliability of background data.

Worksheet C


to identify the nutrition problems and the nutritionally vulnerable;
to identify the uses of forest and tree resources;
to obtain basic information about the physical and socioeconomic characteristics of the community;
to create a base of information against which to measure progress towards achievement of objectives.


a nutritionist or the person(s) responsible for the nutrition dimension of the project along with the community.


1. What are the nutrition and food security concerns of the community?

2. How are forests and trees used in the area?

3. Who are the nutritionally vulnerable? (eg. the landless, households in a particular area, pregnant women, babies, etc.).

4. What are the physical, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics of the area?

5. Based on the information that has now been gathered, what more needs to be known? How can this additional information be obtained?

Define nutritional objectives

After collecting background information, the nutritional objective(s) must be set forth clearly.8 The objectives may be both short- and long-term. Among possible nutritional objectives are the following. The objectives may be to improve the availability, through forest sources, of nutrients not available from non-forest sources, or to supply nutrients to combat a specific deficiency. Reducing seasonal food shortages could also be a nutritional objective. Nurseries or plantations could supply trees that offer food or fodder in the interval between annual crop harvests or during the dry season. Another objective might be to mitigate the possible negative effects of the project on the availability of a particular nutrient by compensating for reduced access to forest resources. The objectives could be to increase available food or household income, to expand women's available time for child care and food preparation or to improve environmental or living conditions.

8 A distinction must be made between project goals and project objectives. Defined here, a project goal is an overall category of improvement such as nutrition. A project objective is a specific improvement such as increased availability of carotene-rich foods within the goal of increased nutritional well-being.

The specific nutritional objectives of a forestry project will depend on overall project goals, the time frame of the project and what the community wants. It is very important that individuals in the community help determine the objectives. Nutritionists can be of assistance by offering a perspective on what the nutrition problems are and what causes them (or could alleviate them).

Forest rehabilitation in northeast Thailand

In a multidisciplinary, diversified forest rehabilitation project in northeast Thailand, conceived more as an integrated rural development project with forestry as the core activity than as a single sector project, project activities of planting trees, woodlots, hedgerows, and shelter-belts were predicted to have beneficial impacts on women's activities, soil fertility, agricultural production and employment. These impacts contribute to the nutritional well-being of individuals (see Figure 1). Agricultural production was expected to increase due to nitrogen-fixing leguminous tree planting and the labour-intensive project provided 200 people with employment each day (Thompson 1984; see also FAO, Forestland for the People).

If a forestry project has already been started or is being implemented, a nutrition objective can be added. The additional objective might be monitoring of the project to avoid project-related injury to the nutrition situation.

Worksheet D

Objective: to define the nutrition objective(s) and the beneficiaries(s) based on the initial review/assessment of the area (worksheet C).

Responsibility: nutritionist or individual(s) responsible for the nutrition component in conjunction with the community.


1. What do rural men and women view as the community's nutritional needs? How do they prioritize those needs?

2. What additional nutritional problems have been identified (if any)?

3. What do the nutrition needs relate to:

household food security?
diet diversity?
seasonal shortages?
women's time?
the environment?
a particular nutritional problem in the community?

4. Who would benefit if the identified type of nutritional needs were met: a particular type of household (eg. all families within the community, female-headed, unemployed, landless, land-poor or other category of deprived); households located in a particular area; particular individuals (eg. those suffering from nutritional problems, children, pregnant women, elderly, others)?

5. How can forests and trees be used to improve the project areas' nutrition situation? What kinds of forest and tree related activities would the community prefer to use to improve its nutritional status?

Decide on forestry and nutrition activities

Food supply
Income generation
Environmental conditions
Women's time

The next step is to select the forestry activities that can be implemented to reach the nutritional objectives. There are many forestry activities that relate to nutrition. They include managing natural and man-made forests for locally needed food products; supporting activities that maximize the benefits that reach the poor; and increasing the diversity of project outputs in order to minimize risk and maximize nutrition benefits.

Individuals from the community, leaders, health workers, and teachers should be consulted. Activities related to nutrition will necessarily vary by project. Community members, project planners and nutritionists need to select project activities based on the objectives and available resources.

Choosing the appropriate activities

In choosing the best activities for achieving the nutrition goals and objectives of the project, there are several important things to keep in mind:

1 Involve the community in linking activities to objectives:

"[One of the] main reasons for the frequent mismatch between intervention and needs... is poor communication with farmers and their families (Arnold 1991:22)."

2 Assess the potential for unforeseen project effects:

An irrigation scheme in Northern Nigeria had among its primary objectives increasing national food supply, providing employment and improving living standards. Unfortunately, the project activities had several large unforeseen effects. The irrigation led to an increase in the number of weeds and pests which increased the labour intensive nature of the farming, led to shifts in production and led to a decrease in crop diversity. Additionally, the decrease in forested area following construction increased the amount of time women had to spend gathering fuelwood which changed daily routines and decreased the time available for income generating activities (DAWN 1985).

3 Design activities to fit within the social context:

"Trees and tree products are almost invariably intimately emedded in often complex resource and social systems... Important though it is, community forestry can never be more than a minor component of the rural system. It is unrealistic to expect community forestry projects and programmes to achieve social or institutional changes at a pace faster than is taking place within society as a whole. If they are to succeed, they need to be compatible with the broader framework within which they are located... Initiatives are much more likely to succeed if they are compatible with deeply entrenched practices and rights... (Arnold 1991:23)"

The remainder of this section (see also Appendix 3) contains ideas for forestry activities that relate to nutrition and are directed specifically at food supply, income generation, the environment and women's time.

Worksheet E

Objectives: to select forestry activities and assess their effect on nutritional well-being.
Responsibility: nutritionist, or the individual responsible for nutrition, foresters, and the community.


1. What activity(ies) is(are) being considered? (See Appendix 3 for examples of activities).

2. Is(Are) the activity(ies) aimed at:

household food security?
the environment?
income generation?
women's time?
a particular nutrition problem?

3. What inputs and how much of these inputs are needed (funds, labour power, etc.)?

4. Will the activity(ies) affect nutrition negatively? By, for example: reducing the access to forests for those most dependent on those resources; reducing food production; or increasing the time women spend involved in a particular activity (eg. collecting fuelwood).

5. What are the other potential social, cultural, economic or other tradeoffs? Are they worth the benefits to those involved?

Food supply

If a project objective is to increase the availability of non-purchased food supply, project activities may relate to food production, food gathering, food aid or food storage. Projects can involve the production of, or increasing access to mushrooms, honey, nuts, leaves, fruit, roots and wild animals obtained from the forest. Border and boundary plantings that contain fruits or berries, or tree plantings in homegardens, could be project activities. Forestry activities can provide direct nutritional assistance if they focus on the selection of edible species that produce during slack periods and that are compatible with local diets. In addition, building materials from the forest can be used to build crop storage containers and thus contribute to more uniform food supplies over the year.

Forestry projects can improve diets indirectly if they provide fodder and livestock medicines. These improvements may increase milk and meat supplies, as well as contribute to animal power for increased agricultural production. The introduction of food preservation techniques such as smoke drying and fermenting might also be beneficial to the community. Production of firewood may increase the amount of food prepared and consumed or reduce the incidence of infections resulting from food contaminated due to improper cooking. Forestry activities should strive to meet local food needs, and defend meeting those needs even when there are competing uses of the forest, such as production of timber for foreign exchange or industrial consumption, or use of forests for tourism.

Forestry activities that contribute to food supply might focus on particularly vulnerable groups in the community.

Forest fruits

In Swaziland, Ogle and Grivetti found that wild fruits are primarily consumed as snacks while working or walking. Moreover, children often snack on wild fruits and these fruits appear to provide the majority of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) during the winter months. (Ogle and Grivetti 1985).

Income generation

An important short-term indirect nutrition benefit of forestry activities is through improved income opportunities. Consequently, the objective of a forestry project might be to increase nutritional well-being through income generation. The sale of fruits, mushrooms, medicines, fuel wood and other forest materials provides income to women and others who are resource poor. One survey found that more than 50% of the villagers in a Philippine community earned income from timber and rattan sales (Siebert and Belsky 1985). Small-scale wood furniture industries have also provided income for families in many countries including Egypt (Mead 1982).

However, improvement of income earning opportunities for the rural poor requires careful examination of local circumstances. Forestry projects geared to improving nutrition through increasing cash incomes can also result in deterioration of nutritional well-being. This can happen if the most vulnerable or dependent lose access to the forest, if food prices increase, if villagers become exposed to market fluctuations, or if required labour time increases (FAO 1989b). Furthermore, the development of forest crops may increase the dependency on food from outside the region. Combined with unreliable transportation systems less stable local food supplies may result. This in turn may increase food and housing prices, affecting the poorest (and possibly most nutritionally vulnerable) people in the community. Although no consistent results about cash cropping and nutrition exist, several studies show that without careful project planning, cash cropping (including forest crops) can have negative effects on nutritional status (von Braun and Kennedy 1986).

Earning income from Zambian forests

Poverty remains the most important contributing factor in undernutrition. In Zambia many poor households spend 7080% of their income on food. Small-scale forest-based enterprises provide opportunities to these households. Charcoal making, furniture production, honey collection, food vending and beverage production are common. Moreover, individuals, particularly women, earn money marketing caterpillars, mushrooms, fruits and honey. Generally income controlled by women is used to a greater extent to feed the family (than is income controlled by men). Thus, it is important to understand women's access to credit, markets and business as well as their time and labour availability. In Zambia, the Ministry of Cooperatives and Marketing, Small Industries Development Organization, and non-governmental organizations (ea. Village Industry Services) help provide such information (Ogle 1987).

The possible negative effects of a project should be anticipated so that planning adjustments can be made. An estimate must be made of the effect of the project on food availability. If the project is going to reduce food availability, it should yield enough income for people to replace the lost food. Moreover, food must be available in the markets. It is also particularly important to note who in the community is most vulnerable to the negative effects of the project and target beneficial activities to those individuals.

Environmental conditions

There are three categories of forestry activities related to the environmental aspects of nutritional well-being. First, environmental protection activities help stabilize food and fodder production. Second, activities aimed at watershed protection can improve the water supply and lessen the transmission of water-borne disease. Third, forestry products can be used to build housing.

In the long-term, specific activities aimed at improving environmental conditions are crucial to improved nutrition. Sustainable agricultural production often involves forest-related inputs, especially in hilly, overworked, or otherwise erosion-prone areas. For instance, grasses, shrubs, or trees may be essential for contour planting, wind barriers, or provision of leaf manure.

Moringa oleifera as a water coagulant

Villagers from the northern Sudan cultivate the multipurpose tree, Moringa oleifera, from the single-genus Moringaceae family of shrubs and trees, as a water coagulant Women not only use the leaves in sauces, they also treat the turbid Nile river water with them. Depending on the raw water quality, 30 to 200 mg of seeds per litre of water clarifies turbid water to tap-water within two hours. Reduction of bacteria by 98-99% accompanies the elimination of the turbidity. New water purifying projects employing this tree have been started in Indonesia (Jahn et al. 1986).

Molluscicides from the Cameroon forests

Some cultivated and indigenous plants in Cameroon contain molluscicidal phytochemicals. The most common active ingredients in the plants, saponasides and saponins, degrade rapidly and, unlike man-made pesticides, lose their toxicity within days. As a potential control of schistosomiasis the plant extract could be added directly to the water or combined with soap for washing clothes. Selected trees and shrubs with molluscicidal properties include Acacia nilotica, Balanites aegyptiaca, Croton macrostachyus, Dichrostachys glomerata, Jatropha gossypiifolia, J. curcas, and Phytolacca dodecandra (Thomas and Tobias 1987).

Addressing problems of water supply and water quality, through watershed protection, can be an important aspect of forestry projects. Projects might supply water wells as part of tree nursery activities, watershed protection, erosion control measures and water harvesting. The management of molluscicides derived from tree products can contribute to safer water supplies. Thus, through reduction in the rate of infection from Schistosomiasis, the incidence of malnutrition may be reduced. Moreover, natural coagulants from trees may be used to clean water.

Forestry projects can also increase the supply of raw materials for housing. Enhancements in housing with such things as out houses can contribute significantly to a decrease in infection and thus an increase in nutritional well-being.

Women's time

Activities that attempt to increase women's available time, by introducing labour-saving technologies leave more time available for food processing and preparation, food production, child care, leisure and, if appropriate, income-earning activities. Projects that increase the availability of water, fodder or fuel supplies may reduce the amount of time women spend collecting those items. Of course, the selection of activities needs to correspond to women's priorities and the constraints of the household food production system.

Women do not always benefit from income-earning activities. These activities may lead to a shift in responsibility over production and the returns of production. In some cases women work while men control the income. Moreover, women's available time for food production, preparation and processing may be reduced. Consequently, care must be taken in the planning process to avoid negative effects on women's time resulting from project activities.

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