Forestry – Agriculture Interface

Throughout human history, the use of land and water resources to grow food, raise livestock, build settlements and support rural and urban livelihoods, has been fundamental to progress and development. These same processes continue today. Conversion and use of forests can result in better food and energy supply, rural employment and income opportunities, expanded agro- and forest industries, and an improved trade and foreign exchange balance.

However, short-term gains can also be followed by long-term losses. Sustainable management of forests is often less profitable than large-scale production of food or energy crops. Therefore, forest conversion into agricultural land is likely to increase if it is left unregulated. Most conversions, if undertaken on a large scale or in certain geographic locations, can impact plant and animal diversity, degrade soil and water resources and release greenhouse gases, among others.

With the rising price of fossil fuels and looming threats of climate change, the demand for crops to produce biofuels will likely increase. Existing food and feed crops (e.g. maize, oilpalm, soybeans) may be used to produce biofuels. Or land used to produce food may be used to grow biocrops. This may lead to forests being degraded or converted to grow more crops, resulting in conflicts between the development goals of eradicating hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability. More social policy conflicts related to land tenure, national energy and stakeholder involvement, are likely to surface.

Several departments at FAO, including the forestry, agriculture and natural resources departments, have started exploring ways to address this issue. Successful examples of efforts made at national and regional levels were presented both at the 18th Session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO) in March 2007 and at the 20th Session of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG) in April 2007.

Forestry – Agriculture Interface Information note (COFO 2007/Inf.5; E,F,S)

Powerpoint presentations:

- The first Forest District and the BR-163 Highway in Brazil

- Cattle ranching in South America

- Bioenergy: The agriculture / forestry interface

- Harmonization of agricultural and environmental policies in Central America

last updated:  Tuesday, September 4, 2007