Forests and trees are essential for global food security

Conference Banners at FAO Headquarters (c)Carolin Bothe-Tews

Conference Banners at FAO Headquarters (c)Carolin Bothe-Tews

Trees are more than just forest and wood use. At an international conference at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, 400 experts from 100 countries discussed the importance of trees for food security. It became clear what a complex role forests, agroforestry systems and even individual trees can play for food security.

Under the title ‘Forests for food security and nutrition’, the FAO in partnership with the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the World Bank and Bioversity International organised the first international conference on the subject of forests and food security. Participants in the conference, which was held at the FAO headquarters in Rome, ranged from representatives of indigenous peoples to representatives from politics, civil society, national and international organisations, universities and research institutes to the private sector.

In his opening address, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva called for greater recognition of the contribution forests make to food security and nutrition for the rural population. He was supported in this by high-ranking speakers, such as David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition, Gabriel Tchango, Gabon’s Minister of Water and Forests, and others.

Insects and other forest resources important to two billion people

At the conference opening, the new FAO study Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security was presented, emphasising the importance of one of the primary sources of nutritious and high-protein food from the forest – edible insects. Insects are part of traditional nutrition for some two billion people worldwide. Gathering or breeding and marketing insects provide both jobs and income.

The three-day conference offered a rich selection of papers, discussions, publications, side events and opportunities for networking on all aspects of the topic of food security and nutrition through resources from the forest ecosystem.

A conference statement emphasised the direct and indirect benefits that forests, trees outside forests and agroforestry systems bring for food security and nutrition for millions of people worldwide. Direct benefits include consumption and sale of products harvested in forests and the animals hunted there, and indirect benefits take the form of jobs and income opportunities, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Besides the importance of ‘forest foods’ (leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruit, mushrooms, insects and other forest creatures), the forest ecosystem also plays an enormous role as a source of fodder and firewood. 2.6 billion people rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking. The traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and other local communities has priceless value for worldwide food security and nutrition, and strengthens the resistance of communities to the impacts of climate change and social transformation.

Forests and their resources are rarely incorporated into development strategies

Over-utilisation of resources, soil degradation, lack of land use planning, inadequate intersectoral coordination between ministries and incorporation into national development strategies were identified as the most important challenges and bottlenecks. Often, there is little investment in research, and data is not available to generate effective policy decision-making. Inefficient technologies in the use of wood as an energy source in particular can lead to health problems for users, particularly women and children worldwide, and high levels of emissions.

Secure titles to land and regulations which secure use rights and access to trees are especially important. The Voluntary Guidelines of the Committee on World Food Security for Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests are a good beginning. All this offers agricultural producers additional incentives for investment. However, it also requires microfinance systems for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

More qualified and better paid jobs in the forestry sector would also be significant to make working conditions more attractive. SMEs have high potential here, and can be particularly interesting as a source of jobs for women.

The conference closed with a number of recommendations, which cannot all be listed here. They include broader partnership between the various parties involved, consistent application of the voluntary guidelines mentioned above, establishing strong structures in rural areas, strengthening women’s rights, improved use of the knowledge of local populations, and also establishing and strengthening producer cooperatives.

This text is taken from: RURAL21 – The International Journal for Rural Development

Update, September 2013: All conference presentations are now online at the conference website.

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