A new report has found that forests and forestry are essential if we are to achieve food security.
About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger, with the majority living in Africa and Asia. According to the report, the world’s forests have great potential to improve their nutrition and ensure their livelihoods as the limits of boosting agricultural production become increasingly clear.
Forests, food and nutrition
The report, which launched in New York at a side-event of the United Nations Forum on Forests, is the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date on the relationship among forests, food and nutrition.
‘Forest foods often provide a safety net during periods of food shortages.
‘In the study, we reveal impressive examples which show how forests and trees can complement agricultural production and contribute to the income of local people, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world.’
Bhaskar Vira, University of Cambridge, chair of the Global Forest Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security
Released by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the world’s largest network of forest scientists, the report also underlines the need for the most vulnerable groups of society to have secure access to forest foods.
Benefits to nutrition
Tree foods are often rich in vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients and are associated with more diverse diets. For example, the iron content of dried seeds of the African locust bean and raw cashew nut are comparable with, or even higher than, that of chicken meat.
Wild meat, fish, and insects are also important forest food sources. Insects are an especially cheap, abundant source of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Particularly in south-east Asia, many forests and agroforests (tree-based farms) are managed by local communities specifically to enhance edible insect supply.
Forests are also essential for firewood and charcoal. In developing countries, 2.4 billion households use these renewable biofuels for cooking and heating. In India and Nepal, for example, even better-off rural households depend on wood fuels.
Trees offer a multitude of ecological services. For instance, they support bees and other pollinators, which are essential for crop production including on farmland. They also provide animal fodder that enables communities to produce meat and milk, and protect streams and watersheds as habitat for fish.
Helping the poor to make a living
According to the report, close to one in six people directly depend on forests for their food and income. In the Sahel region, for example, trees contribute 80% on average to household incomes, especially through shea nut production. Evidence also shows that, worldwide, the lower the level of prosperity, the higher the share of forests in household incomes.
The report documents efforts currently underway in Africa and elsewhere to develop new tree commodities to supply the poor with sustainable incomes.
For example, poor producers in Tanzania are engaged in a global effort to produce the seeds of the Allanblackia crop, which yield an edible oil with potential for the global food market.
A private-public partnership known as Novella Africa is developing a sustainable Allanblackia oil business that they believe could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually for local farmers.