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Using analog forestry to improve community nutrition

Using analog forestry to improve community nutrition

Can communities go back to traditional land management practices? To investigate the potential of forest gardens and their benefits in terms of food diversification for inhabitants of globalization-affected rural communities in Costa Rica, a survey was conducted in the village of Londres de Quepos, near the Central Pacific coast.

The small community, consisting of about 500 households, is located about 16 km north-east from Quepos and Manuel Antonio, places that were, since the 1980s, heavily transformed by tourism and foreign investments. Diverse studies found that modern trends of nutrition, especially in developing countries, are characterized by an increasing dependence on imported cereals, fats, and sugar.

While traditional Costa Rican diets were often based on the consumption of roots and tubers, a higher quantity of fruits and vegetables as well as medicinal herbs, introduction of foreign and trade goods foods through globalization led to dietary changes worldwide. Despite the tropical climate that benefits all-year growth of produce, the WHO-recommended daily intake of vegetables and fruits is not met by Costa Rica inhabitants.

Nutrition is generally characterized by high amounts of carbohydrates, sugar and artificial additives, low variation in daily diets, and little raw food, all factors that have been associated with higher risks of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Interviews were conducted in July 2013 with 50 households, containing questions about garden structure and cultivated plants, agricultural practices, consumption behavior and knowledge about medicinal plants and food-related illnesses. Results showed that fruit consumption was generally low and agricultural practices rarely applied in one’s own garden.

Education about food-related illnesses, sustainable farming practices and medicinal plants was fairly low. Inhabitants of Londres spend a noticeably high share of their mostly low income on food that they mainly obtain in the local supermarket. Consumption was determined by high amounts of processed food, barely containing fruits and vegetables. If produce was purchased, it was bought from mobile vendors, the supermarket or the weekly market in Quepos.

Only a few products were bought locally, mostly animal products and baked goods, even though cultivation and selling of fruits and vegetables does occur. Analyzing consumption habits, sources and types of purchased food, it became clear that not only healthier but more economic diets could be achieved by concentrating on traditional locally produced food instead of expensive imported goods.

Locally as well as globally, different ideas and management strategies have been developed or are being used to tackle the problem of malnutrition and unsustainable agriculture arising from overdependence on imported goods. Analog forestry aims to provide an alternative for economic growth in rural communities, seeking to balance the usually competing interests of landscape restoration and production by providing adequate and sustainable economic returns for farm households over the long term.

The forthcoming research paper provides several environmental strategies seeking to improve education concerning nutrition, sustainable agriculture and environmental protection. Using the analog forestry method, the paper gives suggestions about the creation of forest gardens and communal events such as local seed exchanges, creating a community compost in the local school and workshops about traditional preparation of medicinal plants and food.

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