Malnutrition is prevalent in much of the Congo Basin. Micronutrient deficiencies are especially problematic for women and young children, and can lead to impaired immunity, increased mortality and morbidity, as well as impaired physical growth and cognitive development in children. Developing successful strategies to appropriately combat malnutrition requires a contextualized understanding of how the main drivers of malnutrition – diets and infection – are interacting to contribute to poor nutrition outcomes.
Existing CIFOR research has established a correlation between proximity to forests and improved dietary diversity. In other regions, CIFOR has also identified opportunities to enhance nutritional security by sustainably utilizing local forest foods rich in commonly limited micronutrients. In forest-adjacent communities, wild meat and insects collected from forests are important sources of animal foods for local communities, particularly in areas of the Congo Basin where livestock is difficult to raise due to tsetse fly. In addition, fish from streams and rivers that are dependent on forests may be equally, if not more important in peoples’ diets.
However, nutrition outcomes for women and children in forest communities often remain poor. This is likely because malnutrition in women and children is affected by a range of factors including socio-cultural practices around food distribution, infection rates and hygiene practices, access to forest resources as well as health and other services. It is difficult to disentangle and address these effects without data on these components. Very little research has been conducted globally, investigating the multiple contributors to malnutrition simultaneously; to our knowledge, no such research has been carried out in forest communities of the Congo Basin. Such research is critical in designing appropriate interventions to reduce malnutrition in the region.