Fighting Bushmeat With Food Security
Researchers from the Stellenbosch University, South Africa, carried out a literature review on the topic of bushmeat. They found bushmeat to be commonly defined as meat derived from any wild terrestrial mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian that had been caught for subsistence or trade. The literature largely focused on the human dimension of bushmeat. It looked into the extent to which bushmeat contributes to food security, nutrition, and well-being in certain communities. It also challenged this perspective by considering the impacts of overexploitation. The researchers focused in particular on the findings of 250 key literature sources.
The scientists start by highlighting positive overall progress toward global hunger reduction targets. But, despite this, they note that over 800 million people (just over 10% of the world population) are still chronically undernourished. The vast majority of these people reside in low-income areas. For example, at least one in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa presently lack sufficient protein and calories for energy.
Nowadays, most hunting for bushmeat is illegal. Yet, previous studies have estimated that bushmeat comprises 80–90% of the animal protein consumed in certain rural regions of West and Central Africa. It also comprises over 20% of that eaten by several indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest. It is obviously a significant part of some people’s diets. In addition to its nutritional contribution, bushmeat also provides an important source of income where few alternatives exist. People can easily trade the resource, and it has a high value-to-weight ratio. It can be preserved (usually dried) at low costs too. The researchers found that the appeal for bushmeat extends across many dimensions. Many people view it as familiar and traditional. And some think that it gives social prestige.
Conservationists warn about the “bushmeat crisis.” This describes the over-harvesting of wildlife for food. Bushmeat is now seen as the greatest threat to biodiversity in some regions. At the same time, placing restrictions on bushmeat would be one of the greatest threats to the livelihoods of people who depend on the resource the most. It seems that hunting for bushmeat is most prevalent in many of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. And this also corresponds to the areas with the highest incidences of poverty and human malnutrition. Bushmeat extraction rates are by far the highest in tropical Africa. But they are also high in Latin America and Asia.
Bushmeat is most significant to communities where it contributes most to food security. This is often in places and at times when it is the only known or main source of protein available. In these communities, it cannot be easily replaced. Alongside the need for bushmeat in these communities, an urban demand for bushmeat exists. This may be created by a lack of affordable or acceptable alternatives. But, very often, the urban demand is driven by the wealthy elite. They perceive bushmeat as a luxury item for which they are willing to pay high prices. In this way, bushmeat acts as a valuable trade item. It enables the poor to obtain other commodities.
It is said that up to 75% of emerging infectious diseases in humans are of zoonotic (animal) origin. And most of them originate in wildlife. But, consumers are rarely aware of this fact. Consumers often just associate bushmeat with being healthy, tasty, or part of a cultural heritage. Increasing human populations and widespread economic and social inequalities typically represent the root causes of such disease. And the ongoing devastation of wildlife populations is typically the outcome. A study evaluating 57 of the Congo’s mammalian groups found that at least 60% of these animal groups were caught unsustainably. Also, another study demonstrated hunting as responsible for reducing primate populations by up to 90% in some areas of Equatorial Guinea. It also showed hunting as the main cause for the 50% decline in ape populations in Gabon over just two decades.
Bushmeat overexploitation obviously represents a crisis from both a conservation and food security perspective. Bushmeat may be ethically acceptable when it is necessary for human survival and harvested sustainably. But, when bushmeat becomes unsustainable and driven solely by short-term benefits of urban elites with available alternatives, the practice should be deemed unethical. Proposed solutions within the literature include the acceleration of economic development. But, researchers warn that we cannot simply assume that this alone will decrease bushmeat demand. On the contrary, an increase in wealth may increase the demand. The already expanding urban bushmeat markets across parts of Asia and Africa highlight the danger of this.
The bushmeat issue requires environmental, economic, social, cultural, and ethical considerations. Approaches that focus narrowly on either biodiversity conservation or human welfare are unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. We require a combination of environmental and social perspectives to alleviate this problem. This literature review reminds animal advocates that we must also consider and protect the well-being of the human animal. This will help to prevent illegal and unsustainable activities. One focus could be to raise awareness of the issues surrounding bushmeat. And another could be to provide alternative sources of nutrition and income to impoverished people.