Improving Nutrition and Health through Non-Timber Forest Products in Ghana

By Ahenkan, Albert; Boon, Emmanuel | Journal of Health Population and Nutrition, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Improving Nutrition and Health through Non-Timber Forest Products in Ghana


Ahenkan, Albert, Boon, Emmanuel, Journal of Health Population and Nutrition


INTRODUCTION

Globally, nutrition and health have improved in recent decades but malnutrition, including deficiencies in micronutrients, is still widespread, particularly in developing countries (1-2). Nutrition and health are fundamental pillars of human development across the entire life-span (2). In recent years, increased attention has been focused on the potential role of non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in reduction of poverty, in improving nutrition and health, and sustainable management of forest resources (3-7). The term NTFPs encompasses all biological materials other than timber which are extracted from forests, other wooded land, and trees outside forests and domesticated that include products used as food and food additives (edible nuts, mushrooms, grass-cutters, snails, fruits, herbs, spices and condiments, aromatic plants, game), fibres (used in construction, furniture, clothing, or utensils), resins, gums, and plant and animal products used for medicinal, cosmetic or cultural purpose for human use (8-10). NTFPs form an integral part of the livelihood strategy of rural communities in the tropics and continue to be an important component of household nutrition and health in Africa (11-12). They are particularly an important component of household subsistence, especially in terms of food consumption, nutrition, and health. In Ghana, a considerable amount of food and medicinal plants can be gathered from the forest and bushy fallow areas or are semi-domesticated (13-14). NTFPs contribute substantially to nutrition, either as part of the family diet or as a means to achieve household food security (13-14). They also improve health through the prevention and treatment of diseases (15-19).

Although Ghana, compared to other sub-Saharan countries, has a low prevalence of stunting on average (20), there has been no significant change in rates of mortality of children aged less than five years and infants of Ghana during 1993-2003. Poverty and decline in food availability and accessibility are the main underlying causes of malnutrition in Ghana (21). Asibey-Berko estimated that Ghana would lose 161 million dollar as the cost of health expenditure and low productivity if measures are not taken to improve malnutrition and other iron-deficiency anaemia of its population (22). About 54% of all deaths beyond early infancy are associated with protein-energy malnutrition, making it the single greatest cause of child mortality in Ghana (23). Interventions to prevent micronutrient deficiencies would best be addressed through food-based strategies, such as dietary diversification through home-gardens and NTFPs (24).

Despite this vital role of NTFPs, their potential contribution to food security, nutrition, health, and sustainable livelihoods tends to be overlooked by policy-makers in Ghana. NTFPs have not been accorded adequate attention in development planning and in nutrition-improvement programmes in the country. Research on NTFPs in Ghana is relatively new and has received very little formal investigation. Most recent nutritional studies focus on staple foods, such as cassava and maize. Very little research has been conducted to assess the potential contribution of NTFPs to nutrition, health, and food security of rural communities in Ghana. Inventories of NTFPs by the Forestry Commission of Ghana focused only on rattans, climbers, and other minor tree species (1). The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (GPRSP) also failed to consider NTFPs and their nutritional and health linkages. Various attempts to value NTFPs have examined only the current local market-value of these products and have not attempted any in-depth evaluation of the benefits to rural communities of health and nutrition strategies (1). This paper, therefore, seeks to examine the contribution of NTFPs to household nutrition, health, food security, and poverty reduction in Bibiani-Bekwai district (BBD) and Sefwi Wiawso district (SWD) and to identify the types and uses of NTFPs in the two districts. …

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