Beyond the Bugs: How Forests Contribute to Food Security

Beyond the Bugs: How Forests Contribute to Food Security
When the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization released two reports on food security in mid-May, insects captured all the headlines. The first report garnered the majority of media attention. It discussed the potential for insects as an untapped highly efficient protein source that could help fight food insecurity. The second report provided valuable new information on how forests could contribute to food security worldwide.

The FAO released its report “Forests for Improved Nutrition and Food Security” at the international conference May 13-15 of this year highlighted the direct and indirect ways in which forests, trees and woodlands support food and nutritional security, and provided policy recommendations on how those contributions could be enhanced and maintained.

According to the conference website, 870 million people go hungry every day. To meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population in the future, which is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, global agricultural output will have to increase by an estimated 60 percent.

Escalating food, fiber, and fuel demands have triggered deforestation in many places that threaten ecosystems, diminishes the availability of water, and limits access to wood used as fuel. These shortages threaten food security, particularly for the poorest members of society.

There are additional, often overlooked, ways in which forests and trees contribute to fighting global poverty and hunger efforts. Uninhabited forests and forests bordering agricultural areas play an important role in food security. Many indigenous people rely on forest ecosystems for their survival because of protected catchments, which help deliver clean water to agricultural areas, and available foodstuffs, namely nuts, leaves, shoots, fruit, fungi and animals. Herders in semi-arid and arid regions also depend on trees to provide fodder for livestock.

The World Bank estimates that 60 million people are wholly dependent on forests for their survival and 350 million people living within or near dense forests depend on them for income or subsistence.

Forests, trees, and agroforestry systems provide vital contributions to nutrition and food security, the FAO says, but those benefits are often ignored in development and food security strategies. As a result, forests are left out of many food security and nutrition decisions. Farmers can improve food security by planting trees and forest plants, retaining trees on agricultural land and encouraging natural regeneration.

Eva Muller, director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division told The Interdependent that, “The big challenge is raising awareness… The link between forests and food security has not been clear for many people in the past.”

– Liza Casabona

Sources: FAO The Interdependent The World Bank
Photo: United Nations