Forests cover roughly one-third of the Earth’s land surface, providing vital services in water and food supply and supporting the basic livelihoods of some one billion people worldwide. In spite of this, the contributions of forests to the enhancement of food security remain largely under-researched and poorly understood.
According to Food Security and Nutrition: The Role of Forests published by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), forest products improve food security and nutrition while trees and forests are vital to the provision of ecosystem services to agriculture. However, expanding large-scale industrial production is threatening the contributions that forests and tree-based agriculture systems can make to a food-secure future of a growing global population.
The report was released ahead of the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome in May. The paper raises concern about the impacts of the rapidly expanding agricultural production on forests, deforestation, and biodiversity, highlighting that a 100 percent increase in global food production will likely bring about the conversion of approximately 1 billion hectares [approximately 2.5 billion acres] of land by 2050. However, the authors affirm that the conversion may not be necessary to achieve worldwide food security, which is related to “inadequate food distribution, a lack of purchasing power and other non-productive causes” rather than to insufficient agricultural production. They strongly emphasize the need to include forests in initiatives to mitigate food insecurity and ensure adequate nutrition worldwide.
According to this report, tree and forest products, including fruit, leaves, roots, nuts, and wild animals, provide many micronutrients for rural communities. The paper says that in Tanzania, for example, wild foods obtained from a forest farm contribute 31 percent of a person’s recommended Vitamin A intake, 26 percent of iron intake, and 23 percent of calcium intake. The report states that in many rural settings, bushmeat provides much of the animal products consumed, particularly “in areas where livestock production is limited due to tsetse fly and other environmental constraints.” CIFOR research in 21 African countries indicates that communities living in regions with a substantial tree cover consume larger amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Moreover, many plants or other products from the forest provide an emergency supply of food in times of more frequent climate change-related events, lower agricultural production, or other stress conditions. They also play a critical role in ensuring sustained agricultural production through the provision of several ecological processes such as pollination, watershed protection, seed dispersal, natural pest and disease control, and soil stabilization.
Although several studies have been already conducted, according to the report, further research is crucial to better understand the role of forest management in guaranteeing food security and nutrition, especially for people whose livelihoods are dependent on the forest habitat.