Obscure forest foods such as shea nuts and ‘shade-grown cocoa’ could be winging their way to supermarket shelves soon as forests become an increasingly important food source, according to a new report.

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), said one in nine people worldwide already relied on forests and trees for foods such as fruits, nuts, bushmeat, fungi and seeds. This was set to grow as land shortages and climate change put pressure on agriculture, it predicted.

At present, the poor and malnourished in Africa, Latin America and Asia were most likely to rely on forests as a food source, but forest commodities could also suit the developed world, the report added.

The examples it cited include allanblackia seeds from Tanzania, which produce an edible oil with potential for the global food market. Other forest foods poised for commercialisation included shea nuts and ‘shade grown’ cocoa.

Lead author Dr Bhaskar Vira said the report highlighted the need for forests to be valued and recognised as a source of food alongside agriculture. “There is often a perceived pay-off between forests and agriculture, but this report highlights the need to think about these landscapes in a much more integrated fashion and consider how you can enhance productivity from both of them,” he added.

Dr Vira said retailers would have a key role to play in ensuring forest commodities were developed in a way that benefited local producers.