The importance of forests to safeguard agricultural production through regulating ecosystem services such as clean water, soil protection, and climate regulation is well documented, yet the contributions of forests and trees to provide food for the nutritional needs of the increasing human population has not been fully realized. Plants, fungi, and animals harvested from forests have long provided multiple benefits—for nutrition, health, income, and cultural purposes. Across the globe, the main element of “forest management” has been industrial wood production. Sourcing food from forests has been not even an afterthought but a subordinate activity that just happens and is largely invisible in official statistics. For many people, forests ensure a secure supply of essential foods and vital nutrients. For others, foraging forests for food offers cultural, recreational, and diversified culinary benefits. Increasingly, these products are perceived by consumers as being more “natural” and healthier than food from agricultural production. Forest-and wild-sourced products increasingly are being used as key ingredients in multiple billion dollar industries due to rising demand for “natural” food production. Consumer trends demonstrate growing interests in forest food gathering that involves biological processes and new forms of culturally embedded interactions with the natural world. Further, intensifying calls to “re-orient” agricultural production provides opportunities to expand the roles of forests in food production; to reset food systems by integrating forests and trees. We use examples of various plants, such as baobab, to explore ways forests and trees provide for food security and nutrition and illustrate elements of a framework to encourage integration of forests and trees. Forests and trees provide innovative opportunities and technological and logistical challenges to expand food systems and transition to a bioeconomy. This shift is essential to meet the expanding demand for secure and nutritious food, while conserving forest biodiversity.
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