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Forest regrowth improves dietary quality

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By Abraham Adekunle

Researchers on how forest regrowth in Nigeria has an affect on people.

Two billion people currently suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Existing literature shows that forests can improve people’s dietary quality. Yet, forests are often overlooked in food security policies, which focus primarily on the production of staple crops. The Bonn Challenge has set a goal of restoring 350 million hectares of forest by 2030, but it remains unclear whether restored forests will exhibit the species diversity needed to improve diets in the same way as existing forests. The Bonn Challenge is a global goal to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.

So, researchers report how forest regrowth in Nigeria has affected people’s dietary quality. The report combines a new map on forest regrowth with food consumption panel data from over 1100 households, and uses a combination of regression and weighting analyses to generate quasi-experimental quantitative estimates of the impacts of forest regrowth on people’s food intake. The researchers found that people living in areas where forest regrowth has occurred have a higher intake of fruits and vegetables and thus a higher dietary diversity.

People’s diets are improved along four key pathways.

There has been a recent surge in research establishing that forests can provide considerable benefits to households, including improved dietary quality. These experts claimed that forests can improve people’s diets along four key pathways. According to them, the most direct way is via the provision of wild foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and animal products (such as bushmeat and insects), all of which are high in essential micronutrients. The second pathway is through income gains from sales of non-timber forest products (NTFP), which can facilitate the purchase of nutritious foods from markets.

Another pathway is via the flow of ecosystem services from forests into surrounding agricultural landscapes which can in turn increase and/or diversify production. The fourth pathway is via the provision of fuelwood for cooking, which can improve nutrition by facilitating the preparation of a range of foods, particularly those with long cooking times, as well as making water that is boiled, making it safe to drink. The researchers examined how the regrowth of tropical forests from 2000 to 2012 has affected local people’s dietary quality and living standards in Nigeria.

Findings by these researchers on the effect of forest regrowth.

They found that people living in areas with regrowth from 2000 to 2012 consumed significantly more fruits and vegetables in 2018 than households with no regrowth in their surroundings. Another key finding was that regrowth was significantly related to higher fruit and vegetable diversity. This suggests that the regrowth areas exhibited the species diversity needed to facilitate the consumption of a wider variety of both fruits and vegetables. Tree species common in natural regrowth initiatives in Nigeria include the rapidly growing “Antiaris toxicaria and Lecaniodiscus cupanioides,” both of which are yielding edible fruits.

Along with fruit and vegetable diversity, they also examined the effects on people’s overall dietary diversity. They found that regrowth area had a marginal positive effect on household dietary diversity score (DDS). Finally, they found that regrowth led to higher living standards (such as lower Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) value). Specifically, they found statistically significant effect sizes of regrowth area on MPI living standards, which equated to an average improvement (index decline, for example) in living standards.

Study responds to recent calls for wellbeing-related metrics.

These results provide empirical evidence that forest regrowth has led to better dietary quality and higher living standards in Nigeria. The researchers suggested that there are at least five interacting pathways through which this could be occurring. Importantly, the study responds to recent calls for measuring the success of restoration initiatives in metrics related to improved human well-being and health. While one major advancement of existing knowledge is their focus on forest regrowth rather than plantations, they also use a comprehensive measurement of living standards, whereas previous studies have measured ‘well-being’ benefits through simple indicators.

Related Link

Bonn Challenge: Website

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