Table of Contents Next Page

Editorial - Forestry and food security

With this issue, FAO recommences regular quarterly publication of Unasylva after a suspension of nearly two years, necessitated by the difficult financial situation faced by the Organization. It is in large part the merit of the readers of Unasylva and the members of the international forestry community that publication has been resumed so quickly. Since the last issue of Unasylva was published in early 1988, FAO has received literally hundreds of letters and informal comments from all regions of the world, sharing the displeasure of the Organization and expressing hopes for the speedy reappearance of the journal. At the 1988 Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry, the Member Nations described Unasylva as "the only truly international journal dealing with forestry development''.

Buoyed by this international vote of confidence Unasylva returns, more committed than ever to confronting the issues facing international forestry development.

Over the past two years, the world forestry situation has evolved rapidly. In this issue C.H. Murray, FAO Assistant Director-General, now one year into his mandate as head of the Forestry Department, paints a broad picture of the issues facing world forestry in the 1990s, and the efforts of FAO to assist its member countries in addressing them.

One issue that is assuming increasing significance is the role of forestry in food security. Certainly, the destruction of the tropical forests is directly tied to this question, as the vast majority of deforestation is, in fact, conversion of forest land to agricultural production. Although foresters understand that increases in population will continue to necessitate some of this conversion, they are increasingly concerned that unplanned short-term attempts to achieve physical access to food-one of the twin pillars of food security-are threatening the long-term sustainability of natural resource productivity and hence the prospects for future development.

In this regard, it is crucial to recognize that the millions of local people who are collectively responsible for the bulk of deforestation are not ignorant about the value of trees and forests; they simply see no alternative. But until the sustainable use of forest resources becomes the most viable choice for rural people, the destruction of these resources as a source of physical access to food will continue.

Against this background, the current issue of Unasylva takes a long look at the relationship of forestry with food security, and asks the question, ''How can forestry development programmes and activities become as relevant as possible in ensuring economic and physical access to food by all people at all times?" In the lead article, M. Hoskins sets out the actual and potential contributions of forestry to food security, and suggests practical strategies for the incorporation of food security components in forestry development activities.

Although there are exceptions, forest products are rarely consumed as staple foods of choice; however, they are often of crucial importance when cultivated food supplies are in short supply, either at the end of the agricultural season, or in times of famine. J. Falconer examines the role of forest foods in smoothing seasonal food imbalances, especially among the rural poor.

The article by C. Ogden traces efforts by foresters and nutritionists to join forces, with a particular focus on FAO's work to develop a draft methodology for the incorporation of nutritional considerations into forestry projects. Readers are invited to comment on the methodology. Closely related to the issue of forestry and nutrition is a rising concern over the potential effects of widespread fuelwood shortages on dietary patterns. A short article takes a provocative look at just how little we really know about the effects of fuelwood shortages on food production, preparation and consumption, and makes a strong case for further research.

A good indicator of the value of the forests to local people is their use of trees in farming systems. Rounding off the focus on food security is an article by J.E.M. Arnold examining the factors involved in farmer decisions for and against tree growing, with a special consideration about the effect of tree cash cropping on food security.

Three main points emerge clearly from these articles. First, trees and forests already play an important role in supporting food security, and this role can be strengthened further through appropriate forestry development activities. Second, the participation of local people in the design and implementation of these activities is essential if they are to achieve their potential and effectively address people's needs. Third, a broad-base interdisciplinary approach incorporating all development sectors is necessary to achieve food security.

A final point that needs to be made strongly is that it is neither realistic nor desirable to expect all forestry activities to be converted to the exclusive pursuit of food security. Rather, the potential contribution of forests and trees to food security must be optimized and harmonized, wherever possible, with the multiple role of forest resources: in maintenance of the soil and water base for agricultural production, as a source of high-value industrial raw material; and as a storehouse of genetic resources. All of these aspects will be considered in future issues of Unasylva.

Top of Page Next Page