20 March 2023

Turning data into drawings: distributing children’s books on wild forest foods in East Africa

The children at the Mbete school in Tanzania have received the book My Little Guide to Wild Food
The children at the Mbete school in Tanzania have received the book My Little Guide to Wild Food, about which fruits and vegetables grow wild in the forest. In Tanzania and Malawi, poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency are still a big problem and therefore research into how we can improve food security is of great importance to the local communities. Researchers from the Department of Geosciences and Nature Management at the University of Copenhagen have disseminated their research in a brightly colored book for children in 3rd - 4th grade. Photo: Laura Vang Rasmussen, IGN.

Research on how to improve food and nutrition security has the potential to make real-life contributions for local communities suffering from nutrient deficiencies. Yet, most research remains inaccessible to people who could benefit from it. To elevate the impacts of research beyond a scientific paper, the ERC funded project FORESTDIET has developed and distributed a children’s book on wild foods in Malawi and Tanzania.

The book My Little Guide to Wild Food contents are based on results obtained from data on wild food consumption in Malawi and Tanzania, collected by PhD students Emilie Vansant and Rasmus Skov Olesen. Together they surveyed more than 1000 households across 16 sites in the two countries.

The book is designed to educate young children in rural Africa about how wild foods from the forest can contribute to healthy diets. The illustrations were developed in collaboration with graphic facilitator Mette Jeppesen and highlight the importance of consuming foods rich in micronutrients, such as Vitamin A. To better acquaint children with their surrounding landscape, it features common tree species (e.g. wild custard apple, wild java plum) and green leafy plants (e.g. wild cow peas, black jack) and their various functions, including providing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.

The team, which consists of Emilie, Rasmus, postdocs Bowy den Braber and Charlotte Hall, Associate Professor Laura Vang Rasmussen, and graphic facilitator Mette Jeppesen from Tanke-Streger, traveled to Tanzania and Malawi in March 2023 and distributed the book to ~1500 children across 16 schools through interactive workshops designed to engage students with the book’s contents.

The book tells the story of Temwa and Jumanne and their grandmother.
The book tells the story of Temwa and Jumanne and their grandmother, who talks about all the amazing fruits and vegetables that can be found in the forest. The different species are shown and there is a page that explains why the body needs the healthy foods. Photo: Laura Vang Rasmussen, IGN.

The team published the book in three languages: English, Chichewa and Swahili. When distributing the book to school children, the book was first read out loud to the children with the help of local research assistants. Mette sketched a human body and explained how eating nutritious fruits and vegetables can be good for your eyesight, strength and health. The workshops finished with a drawing activity, where the children were invited to pick certain leaves and fruits to draw together on large sheets of paper. These collective ‘nutritious landscape drawings’ were then left to decorate the classrooms.

In summary, the FORESTDIET team found it very rewarding to be able to give the research findings back to the communities. Finding ways to improve people’s food security and nutrition is key - especially in Malawi where cyclone Freddy, one of the worst cyclones ever recorded in the Southern hemisphere, slammed the country while the team was trying to conduct the workshops. Despite heavy rains and schools being suspended, the team and local partners managed to organize makeshift workshops for children in the villages. Even under these conditions, the team was warmly received by the local chiefs and children.

In the classroom, the children have finished reading, and start drawing :-)

In the classroom, the children have finished reading, and now they have to draw. Before long, the room is full of beautiful drawings, and the children leave the room with new knowledge about plants and fruits. Photo: Laura Vang Rasmussen, IGN.

You can finde the book My Little Guide to Wild Food online here

March 21 is International Forest Day

The UN has declared March 21 International Forest Day. The day aims to celebrate and raise awareness of how important forests are. On Forest Day, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees. The theme for 2023 is "Forest and health."

About the FORESTDIET project

The project runs until 2025 and is financed by the European Research Council. The project aims to uncover the connection between changes in forest cover and the quality of people's diets in low-income countries.

Read more about the FORESTDIET project


Laura Vang Rasmussen
Associate Professor - Promotion Programme
+45 35 32 58 60

Anette Bill-Jessen
+45 93 51 13 70


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