Mangoes to maggots: 7 forest foods that hold ‘trump card’ to hunger

In the face of climate change and peak farmland, tree foods offer “hidden harvest” for global hungry, report says

Damar Forests of Indonesia (UN Photos)

Damar Forests of Indonesia (UN Photos)

By Alex Pashley

Forests are a “trump card” in boosting nutrition and incomes for the undernourished, experts said today.

An abundant source of vitamins, fats and proteins, forests must be central in efforts to build food security for the world’s one in nine people who go hungry, the majority living in Asia and Africa.

And as climate change increases the risk of droughts and floods, which hit crop production and spark price volatility, they provide a “hidden harvest” for the most vulnerable, according to a report by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations presented at a UN forum in New York.

Forest products were a “fallback in times of transition”, lead author Bhaskar Vira at the University of Cambridge told RTCC.

As well as offering firewood and charcoal, foods allow communities “to get the nutritional balance that’s needed when food availability from conventional sources is under pressure from climate change,” Vira added.

And here are seven to be harnessed.

1. Mangoes

The juicy stone fruit native to South Asia grows on trees up to 40m tall. Trees are much more resilient to erratic weather events than field crops, the report outlines.

A Filipino man carves green mangos for sale (Flickr / Wayne S Grazlo)

A Filipino man carves green mangos for sale (Flickr / Wayne S Grazlo)

2. Custard Apple

This rough-textured, heart-shaped fruit also known as cherimoya tastes like a mix of banana, pineapple and strawberry. It’s found throughout the Americas’ tropical regions.

Custard apple

Custard apple

3. Allanblackia seeds

Seeds of this African crop produce an edible oil with potential for international food markets. Public-private partnership Novella Africa is developing its supply chain and with it Tanzania.


Allanblackia (wikimedia commons)

4. Maggots

Chewy grubs from sago palms in Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia are a strong form of sustenance. They join other insects that have made it onto the gourmet menus of European restaurants, Vira said.

5. Tamarind

The edible pod-like fruit has many uses from spicing recipes to its towering branches being used for carpentry, seeing it spread throughout subtropical zones.

Tamarind (wikimedia commons)(

Tamarind (wikimedia commons)

6. Bush plum

Also known as a conkerberry, this tropical fruit found in regions from Australia to Africa sprouts on shrubs measuring 3m.

Desert date (tk)

Ripe bush plum fruit (Wikimedia commons)

7. Loquat

This tangy fruit with a taste similar to peach or mango, native to China is now found from central America to India.


Round-shaped loquat fruit (Wikimedia commons)

Vira called for governments to conceive of agriculture and forestry management as one, rather than having separate ministries as is often the case.

Preserving carbon-sucking forests from deforestation and land change would help food security and work towards the UN’s 2025 goal of zero hunger, he said.

Read more on: Forests | Living