Trading fresh bushmeat and fish for frozen chicken lowers dietary diversity in Amazon

by Barbara Fraser | CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research)
Wednesday, 19 June 2013 03:33 GMT

Importing frozen chicken from the south of Brazil all the way to western Amazon has a higher ecological footprint than allowing local bushmeat markets. Photo courtesy of Emilian Robert Vicol.

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When indigenous people migrate from forest communities to towns, they leave behind their traditional diet of fish and game and switch to chicken, eggs, sausages or canned meat – a menu that is sapping the nutritional diversity from people’s diets, according to surveys of schoolchildren in the western Amazon.

The number of people who depend on game animals is not high, but it is an important source of diversity in people’s diets, said Nathalie Van Vliet, who is conducting a study of game or “bushmeat” consumption for CIFOR.

“People are losing nutritional diversity by abandoning the protein that comes from the wild,” said Van Vliet.

“This transition is even more surprising considering western Amazon mid-sized towns are situated along a river that retains the largest diversity of fish worldwide.”

Although about 10% of the people living in forest communities eat bushmeat every day, that figure plummets when they move to large towns. The same trend occurs with fish, consumed by 40% of rural dwellers and only 10% of their urban peers, Van Vliet said during a presentation at the Third Latin American Congress of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO), held in San José, Costa Rica, from 12 to 15 June.

Indigenous people who moved to the towns quickly adopted the non-indigenous diets, said Van Vliet, who surveyed schoolchildren about the kinds of protein they had eaten the previous day.

But dietary shifts could lead to health problems later, especially because processed meats tend to be high in fat and salt, and their increased consumption level has been linked to higher prevalence of heart disease and cancer.

In the remote part of the Amazon where Van Vliet works – around the towns of Leticia, Colombia and Tabatinga, Brazil, where those two countries share borders, and Peru – changes are rapid, as indigenous people move to towns in search of jobs and better living conditions, she said.

“Along with this migration come cultural transformations and changes in diet,” she said. “This has huge implications for people’s nutrition.”

So far, little is known about the role bushmeat plays in human nutrition, especially in urban areas. Van Vliet, who participated in a comparative study of bushmeat hunting in the Congo and Amazon basins that was published in 2011, explained that most studies in Latin America have focused on the ecological impacts of hunting, but little interest has been given to the economic and socio-cultural aspects linked to that wildlife as a food resource.

Because of concerns about ecological impacts, bushmeat sale is illegal in most of the Amazon, she said, but that has not stopped the trade.

Nathalie Van Vliet hopes her planned studies of the economic importance of bushmeat, as well as the availability and abundance of prey, will lead to debate about whether regulations could be reformed to regulate the use and management of wildlife for sustainability to acknowledge a trade that occurs despite prohibitive laws.

“We want to assess the sustainability of this market chain,” she said.

Van Vliet argues that importing frozen chicken from the south of Brazil all the way to western Amazon probably has a higher ecological footprint than allowing local markets of bushmeat based on sustainable management systems.

“We have to analyze the trade-offs in a more holistic manner” she said.

“The wild sources of protein are locally produced, whereas the chicken comes from far away and may have been produced under more intensive and more questionable ethic and environmental systems.”

For more information on the issues discussed in this article, please contact Robert Nasi at 

This research is carried out as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.