Forests for food security and nutrition

©FAO/Nuria Martinez Pascual

It is estimated that nearly one-third of the global population depends on forest goods and services for livelihoods and food security and nutrition. Forests and trees outside forests contribute to the four dimensions of food security (i.e. availability, access, utilization and stability) by providing income, employment, energy, ecosystem services and nutritious foods.

Foods from dense forests, open woodlands and trees on farms provide millions of people with nutritious food supplements. Wild animals, freshwater fish and edible insects from forests are the main sources of protein for many people. Forest foods are a regular part of rural diets; forests serve as “safety nets” for the rural poor in times of food scarcity.


Income derived from forest products and services supports better access to food and nutrition, not only for those who earn income directly from forests but indirectly in rural communities through consumption and investment links. Forest and farm producer organizations help rural communities increase their capacity to start and manage businesses, sell their products, and access social and cultural services.

Cooking is the main way to ensure proper nutrient absorption. Globally, an estimated 2.4 billion people use woodfuel for cooking, and forests, therefore, play a key role in household food security and nutrition. About 765 million people (10.9 percent of global population) use wood energy to sterilize their water by boiling it, which is often the only available means for forest-dependent communities to obtain safe drinking water and water for food-processing.

Forests provide many essential ecosystem services. For example, forest ecosystem services support agricultural, livestock and fishery production through water regulation, soil protection, nutrient circulation, pest control and pollination. Forests are essential for the conservation of biodiversity, thereby ensuring the maintenance of gene pools for diverse, nutritious food and medicinal crops. Forests are crucial for the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, thus helping reduce climate-related food insecurity. 

Despite the multiple benefits of forests for food security and nutrition, forest resources in some regions are being seriously depleted, with an estimated global net forest loss of 10 million hectares in 2015–2020, and very large areas of forest have been degraded. Agricultural conversion is the main cause of forest loss, compounded by factors such as poverty, poor governance, population growth, lack of capacity and insecure forest tenure for local communities.

Often, forest policies focus on economic efficiency and do not consider the contribution of forests to sustainable food security and nutrition. The conversion of forests to other land uses can have long-term environmental and livelihood impacts, primarily on forest-dependent communities but also more broadly.


The role of sustainable forestry in achieving food security and nutrition

Although some farmers and communities may obtain short- and medium-term gains in their livelihoods and food security from forest conversion, this may be at the expense of the food security and nutrition of forest-dependent communities. For example, the dwindling supply of woodfuel (firewood and charcoal) in some regions is having an increasingly severe impact on nutrition by increasing the consumption of undercooked food. Moreover, the loss of forest biodiversity and ecosystem services such as those related to pollination and soil and water quality is likely to have negative long-term impacts on agricultural production. 

In October 2017, the 44th Session of the Committee on World Food Security endorsed new voluntary policy recommendations on the role of sustainable forestry in achieving food security and nutrition in an effort to ensure the simultaneous attainment of sustainable forestry, agriculture, and food security and nutrition.

Increased recognition of the importance of forests for food security and nutrition can help create an enabling environment for sustainable forest management. In turn, the widespread application of sustainable forest management will unlock additional forest-related benefits for food security and nutrition and sustainable livelihoods.

FAO responds

©FAO/Simon Maina

FAO’s work on forests for food security and nutrition involves providing support for global and regional policy processes, the compilation and analysis of data, and country-level support for policies and field programmes.

Globally, FAO convenes and facilitates policy processes related to both forestry (e.g. through the World Forestry Congress, the Committee on Forestry and the Regional Forestry Commissions) and food security and nutrition (e.g. the Committee on World Food Security and Nutrition). FAO also organizes regional policy dialogues, workshops and training to specifically address cross-sectoral issues. It generates information to assist its member countries and civil-society and private-sector actors build global and regional consensus on challenges related to the interactions between forests and trees and food security and nutrition.

Policies and strategies needs to be informed by evidence. FAO helps develop national-level capacity and compiles and analyses data on the links between forests and trees and food security and nutrition. For example, FAO flagship publications (e.g. The State of the World’s Forests, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, The State of the World’s Agriculture, and Global Forest Resources Assessments) are informed by FAO analyses of the contribution of forests – and their wood and non-wood forest products – to food security and nutrition. This helps improve understanding of the role of forests and trees in food security and nutrition and therefore contributes to the informed formulation of national policies and field programmes.

At the national level, FAO implements or backstops field projects to increase the contribution of forests to food security and nutrition (e.g. by supporting forest and farm producer organizations, small and medium-sized forest enterprises and indigenous peoples’ organizations) and offers assistance to countries to strengthen forest tenure rights and governance processes in the context of national food security. FAO also assists countries to organize national-level policy dialogues on the role of forest policies in food security and nutrition (and vice versa) to facilitate the uptake of good practices and the exchange of experiences.

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