With the global population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, there has been much debate around the issues of nutrition and food security. Amid these concerns, a report published on May 6 by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), calls for greater consideration of the use of forests as a food source as well as for biodiversity conservation. The report, titled “Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition” was presented at the UN Forum on Forests and is a result of the collaboration of more than 60 scientists from around the world.
The report argues that while there is growing recognition that forests and tree-based systems complement farmland agriculture in terms of food security, the responsibility for these elements of the landscape are typically fragmented across different government departments, which, it says, occurs throughout most countries. According to the authors, as a result, these departments must compete for political attention as well as funding and policies may benefit one while adversely affecting the other.
"What we are saying to policymakers is to start thinking more about the landscape as an integrated production system rather than the current and conventional view that often places agriculture and forestry in opposition to each other. We make a really strong case for thinking about the landscape holistically," said Bhaskar Vira, chair of the IUFRO’s Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security.
The report is the fourth global scientific assessment undertaken so far, under the framework of the Global Forest Expert Panels initiative (GFEP), which aims to provide an assessment of scientific knowledge about the role of forests and trees for food security and nutrition. It is published at a time when the UN is seeking to adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) and align with the post-2015 development agenda. The report also provides some insight into how the UN can respond to the “Zero Hunger Challenge”, an ambitious goal proposed by the UN Secretary General at the Rio+20 Summit, to eliminate world hunger by 2025.
Globally, governments own approximately 80 percent of forests, although management rights of this land are increasingly being transferred to indigenous communities, enabling access to forest resources for local people, which is important to help them sustain a nutritious diet. According to Dr. Vira, it appears that forests may be a more resilient food source under climatic changes, compared to field-based agriculture, which can improve the resilience of local communities to environmental changes. In an article by SciDev, Vira also points out that many existing policies that aim to eliminate hunger have mostly ignored the value that forest foods such as wild meat, seeds and fruits, can have on people's diets.
A separate report published in 2013 by the Center for International Forestry Research, claims that forests and tree-based agricultural systems already contribute directly and indirectly to the livelihoods of an estimated one billion people globally. The report also highlighted the link between forests, food security and nutrition and the importance of the role of trees and forests in the provision of ecosystem services to agriculture such as maintaining soil fertility, protecting soil and water and providing a habitat for wild pollinators.
Both reports share the consensus that forests should feature prominently in both the political and scientific arena in terms of food production and sustainable forest management. It will be interesting to see how this will be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda at the UN Summit in New York this September.
Further information on forests and food security is available to subscribers of CABI's Forest Science database.