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Report: Forests As Food Producing Habitats

Forests have been serving as food basket of several communities across India. Why can’t we think of it as an ally against hunger?

GOI Monitor

(An article based on a a new report: Forests As Food Producing Habitats: An Exploratory study of Uncultivated Foods and Food & Nutrition Security of Adivasis in Odisha, by Living Farms, Odisha)
If maintained sustainably, forest can also be a source of income for the communities. Here villagers packing Sitaphal (sweet apple) in Udaipur district, Rajasthan.
IN ANDHARILIM village of Rayagada district, Odisha, very few people are able to recall a famine around 30-35 years ago. During that time, the villagers survived on honey (with some mud), green leaves and tubers, bamboo shoots etc. Raw siali seeds and mahua also came in handy. 
In Ghettijharan village of distant Sundargarh district, uncultivated forest food also saw the community through a time of scarcity 50 years ago. 
In Palamau of Chota Nagpur region, most of the people obtained a good supply of flowers, fruits, barks, roots and tubers which provided immunity to the district from famine.
These facts hold true for other parts of the country where people have been traditionally sourcing some part of their diet from forests. The cultivated lands, on the other hand, face starvation deaths in times of drought or flood as there’s no natural resource to fall back upon. But we rarely recognise forest as an able ally in the fight against hunger and food insecurity.
In fact, the mainstream media looks at consumption of uncultivated foods mostly as a sign of backwardness and poverty. Year after year, stories of deaths of tribals after consuming mango kernel soup are reported. Governments are also seen actively dissuading them from consuming such foods. On the other hand, forest department has always focused on plantation revenues ignoring the real value of unmarketed forest foods.
A study by ‘Living Farms’, Odisha, points out how uncultivated foods are not only safe, but also diverse and nutritious. Focussed on select villages of Rayagada and Sundargarh districts, the study also dwells on socio-economic changes that are making it difficult to access the forest produce due to shrinking tree cover.
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Centre for International Forestry Research discussion paper: Food Security and Nutrition: The Role of Forests.FAO conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition 

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