What do forests have to do with food?

Delicious recipes and deeper insights from five sites in Africa

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What can you cook from parkia seeds and baobab leaves? How about temple plant leaves and shea butter?

New research emerging from five sites in Africa – in Burkina Faso, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Cameroon – is uncovering a smorgasbord of delicious recipes made from forest foods, as well as some important findings on the connections between landscapes, food security and nutrition.

So far, the research has found that people living near forests in these countries tend to have healthy, diverse diets, despite having low incomes.

This is in part because forest landscapes offer them access to a variety of healthy foods, such as fruit, fish, wild meat and leafy greens, suggest researchers Amy Ickowitz from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)  and Bronwen Powell, a CIFOR partner and Assistant Professor at Penn State University.

The findings have important implications for understanding how best to manage forest landscapes to support food security and nutrition.


Ongoing research efforts include collecting forest food recipes from across the region, and studying how local diets interact with forest management practices.

Several forest food dishes have been recorded in Burkina Faso, compiled in a recipe book, so far only available in French. More have been uncovered in Zambia, where communities entered their best dishes in a competition at a food fair. In Ethiopia, a wild green known as kama was found to be the most commonly eaten vegetable in the study area, and a rich source of iron and potassium.

Forest foods tend to be high in micronutrients – that is, vitamins and minerals – and can be important contributors to food security and good nutrition.

“Macronutrients, like carbohydrates and protein often become the focus of donors and large research institutions working on food security and nutrition,” Ickowitz says.

“But micronutrients are just as important – deficiencies can lead to malnutrition, disease, or even death. In fact, there are more people in the world suffering from micronutrient deficiency than from hunger.”

Making the connection to forest landscapes opens the opportunity to find sustainable forest management practices that support conservation and biodiversity, as well as human well-being.

“We are still looking into what kinds of sustainable practices exist for regulating supplies of forest foods, and how these can be incorporated into practice and policy on food security and forest management,” Ickowitz says.

This research is part of a project called Nutrition and Trees in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The connections between food and forest landscapes will be in focus as part of a two-part discussion titled Landscape Restoration for Food Security and Resilient Livelihoods from 19-20 December at the Global Landscapes Forum in Bonn, Germany.

For more information on this topic, please contact Amy Ickowitz at
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