34 Protracted crises, forced migration and nutrition: unleashing the potential of forests and trees


  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)


We live in an increasingly mobile world, with unprecedented numbers of people moving within and across borders, very often against their will. By the end of 2015, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide reached over 65 million. Many of these displacements evolve into protracted crises with  harsh living conditions often resulting in appalling human health situations and devastated livelihoods, where undernourishment rates are estimated at almost three times higher than in developing countries.

In such circumstances, forests and trees play a significant but less recognized role in supporting displaced communities including as source of nutritious food, shelter, woodfuel for cooking and other income earning opportunities. When sustainably managed, these natural resources provide a vital safety net and life-supporting assets that can improve the communities’ quality of life and livelihoods, while also acting as buffers to help them withstand extreme weather conditions.

In this context, the side-event provides an opportunity for the panellists to share their experiences and illustrate how, in the short term, forests and trees do help displaced communities in increasing their resilience including tackling malnutrition while contributing to the longer term development goals if managed sustainably.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Amare Gebre Egziabher, Senior Environment Officer, UNHCR (panelist)
  • H.E. Mumtaz Kassam, Ambassador of Uganda (panelist)
  • Edmond Dounias, Forest & food expert, Institut de recherche pour le développement (panelist)
  • Mats Nordberg, Team Leader, Forest Products and Statistics Team, FAO (panelist)
  • Shukri Ahmed, Deputy Strategic Programme 5 Leader, FAO (Moderator)
  • Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, FAO (opening remarks)
  • Hiroto Mitsugi, Assistant-Director General of the Forestry Department, FAO (closing remarks)


Participants discussed the significant but often overlooked role of forests and trees in providing nutritious food, shelter, woodfuel for cooking and income-earning opportunities for displaced communities at this side event, co-organized by FAO and UNHCR.

Mr. Amare Gebre Egziabher, Senior Environment Officer, UNHCR, illustrated the importance of tackling the environmental impacts that are often associated with the massive woodfuel demand for cooking in displacement settings – an issue that is often overlooked in emergency response but vital especially for ensuring food and nutrition security. He also reminded the audience that that wood-based fuel often remains the primary source of energy for displaced populations, and that planning proper management of forest resources should start in the early stages of displacement to avoid irreversible environmental degradation, conflict and perpetuating the cycle of food insecurity and malnutrition.

Her Excellency Mumtaz Kassam, Ambassador of Uganda, shared the experience of Uganda, host to more than 1 million refugees. She explained Uganda’s “open door [refugee] policy” which has allowed displaced communities to live side by side hosts and get jobs, integrate into communities, etc.

Mr. Edmond Dounias highlighted the important contribution of forest foods to nutrition and health. He said that while forest foods will not solve world hunger on their own, they are an important piece of the puzzle for children, women and men in many parts of the world and key to building their resilience.

Mats Nordberg showcased FAO’s work on woodfuel and non-wood forest products, and stressed the need for multi-institutional partnerships.

A video was also shown illustrating FAO/UNHCR support to the energy needs of over 200 000 South Sudanese refugees displaced in refugee camps in the Gambella region of Ethiopia to reduce the impact on forest resources and the host community.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • Must address underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition. Ending hunger and preventing all forms of malnutrition by 2030 will not be possible without addressing their underlying causes, including conflict and natural hazards linked to climate change, and the associated displacement of communities.
  • From administering aid to building resilience. The longevity of crises requires a shift of focus from aid to development, especially building resilience of displaced peoples and their host communities. In this token, both short-term emergency needs and long-term development ends need to be addressed. Forests and trees make an important contribution to these ends, and can potentially play an even bigger role if resources are managed responsibly.
  • Resilience and sustainability are complementary. Forests can continue to provide food, energy, shelter and so on – thereby increasing resilience, or the capacity of individuals to absorb and recover from unforeseen shocks – if these resources are well managed. SFM can ultimately contribute to diminishing competition for natural resources.
  • Partnering to build resilience. To put this system into practice, we need to draw on different knowledge and experiences. FAO and UNHCR must strengthen this  bilateral partnership to address issues such as the sustainable management of forest resources to meet short term and long term goals.
Side Event - 34 - Protracted crises and malnutrition