Research Article: The relationship between forests and freshwater fish consumption in rural Nigeria

Date Published: June 11, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Michaela Lo, Sari Narulita, Amy Ickowitz, Francisco X. Aguilar.


Nigerians depend on fish for maintaining diverse and healthy diets. Fish are a key source of protein and micronutrients, both of which are important for healthy diets. Some research has shown that forests provide important ecosystem functions that support the productive capacity and sustainability of inland fisheries. Our study aims to empirically assess the relationship between forest cover around rivers and fish consumption. We use data from the Living Standards Measurement Survey (LSMS) and spatially merge household and village data with forest cover and river maps. We estimate the relationship between forest cover around rivers and average village fresh fish consumption, while also accounting for other socio-economic and geographical determinants. We find that that the density of forest cover around rivers is positively and significantly correlated with village consumption of fresh fish. Our results suggest that forests influence the consumption of fresh fish by improving the productivity of inland fisheries and increasing the availability of fish. Aquatic habitats tend to be overlooked in debates on land use and food production, and yet can be critically important sources of nutrient-rich foods that are limited in rural diets in developing countries, particularly for the poor. Clearing forests for agriculture in order to produce more agricultural crops might have the unintended consequence of reducing another important food source.

Partial Text

Increasing agricultural land at the expense of forests has often been viewed as a necessary means to feed a hungry planet [1, 2]. While this is often lamented because of the impacts on biodiversity conservation and climate change [3–5], recent research has shown that deforestation may also have negative consequences on the diets of local communities that are part of the landscape where these land use changes occur [6]. While the direct provisioning that forests provide in the form of fruits, mushrooms, tubers, insects, and wild meat are increasingly recognized [7, 8]; there are other indirect pathways through which forests may impact diets. One key pathway is through the ecological functions that forests provide to wild fisheries given that fish can be a very important animal source food, particularly for poor communities in the tropics.

Descriptive statistics for all the variables included in the model are presented in Table 2.

Understanding the links between the environmental landscape and food consumption patterns is important for assessing potential trade-offs between forest conservation and food security. For Nigeria, and many other developing countries, fish are a vital source of protein and micronutrients that help to sustain healthy diverse diets. However, the paucity of studies on forest and fish interactions in this region limits our understanding of the importance of forests for wild capture inland fisheries in this region. This study is a first attempt at using existing data sets to investigate whether or not there may be an important link worthy of attention. Here, we find a positive and statistically significant relationship between forests and freshwater fish consumption in Nigeria. This association is particularly strong in the humid and sub-humid regions of Nigeria where forest cover is relatively high. The results from our robustness test showing that this relationship only holds for fresh, and not processed fish, demonstrates that the relationship is not merely a statistical artefact, but indicative of a real relationship. Our findings emphasize the importance of forests for inland fisheries that deliver key sources of food to rural communities in Nigeria.