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Forests in a nutshell: discover the lesser-known story behind some of your favourite dishes on International Day of Forests!

Video presentation of International Day of Forests

For most of early history, humans obtained their food by hunting and collecting wild plants in grasslands and forests. Nowadays, the conversion of forest land to land for agriculture is the single largest driver of deforestation worldwide, contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale. Integrating forests with other ways of using the land – including for agriculture – is thus essential for attaining food security, ensuring healthy nutrition, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  

To raise awareness of the importance of forest ecosystems for human nutrition and celebrate the International Day of Forests 2021, UNECE and FAO launched a video explaining how responsibly sourced nuts from sustainably managed forests and agroforestry can enrich our diets and contribute to our health and well-being. “Forests in a nutshell” tells a less familiar story of forests: one in which they are important providers of nutritious and healthy food, with the potential to transform food systems into drivers for sustainable development around the world.

Contemporary food supply chains frequently obscure the origins of the food we put on our table every day. It thus becomes easy to forget that some of the most nutrient-rich ingredients originate from non-wood forest products, including game meat, berries, mushrooms, and various plants. Nuts from forests and trees outside of forests are a particularly poignant example of ancient forest food that has had a profound impact on global diets, cultures, and languages.

The word “walnut”, for instance, has similarities among several languages – a historical legacy of travellers and merchants who carefully picked, traded and transported the highest quality nuts from Central Asian forests to their own countries, and introduced them to local dishes. Today, one of these remaining precious walnut forests – located around the mountainous village of Arslanbob in Kyrgyzstan – plays a key role in providing a source of food and livelihoods for thousands of people, including women and youth in rural communities. 

As the video shows, in many places, nuts from forests form the building block of entire food chains. In distant parts of Siberia, locals harvest pine forests for their nutritious nuts, which are added to salads, cereals, and used in a variety of local dishes. In the vast forests of Russia’s Far East, the cedar pine is a source of food for many forest animals, including deer and wild boars. Deer and boars themselves are a pray for the endangered Siberian tiger, which counts only a few hundred left in the wild.  

“Forests in a nutshell” also touches upon other tree nuts – including pecans, almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts – which are part of a regular diet for many people worldwide, making it all the more important to source and consume them sustainably. Controlled, organic farming is on the rise in many countries: from small-scale production of almonds in France, to local orchards of hazelnuts in Italy, both of which are a response to recent increase in demand for nuts. As the world population grows, there is an urgent need to transform the way we produce and consume our food to ensure the availability of healthy, nutritious food for everyone – and forests have an important role to play in this process. 

International Day of Forests 2021 key messages: “healthy forests mean healthy people”, “forest food provides healthy diets”.

Find out more about our work on non-wood forest products here.

Watch “Forests in a nutshell” here:

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