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Re: Forests and trees provide benefits for food security and nutrition– what is your say?

UN Standing Committee on Nutrition , Switzerland
FSN Forum

The UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN) is the interagency platform furthering, coordinating and supporting joint efforts on nutrition across the UN system. We welcome the discussion on the benefit of forests and trees to food and nutrition security in order to achieve improved nutritional outcomes.

Food and agriculture consist of several sub-sectors one of which is forestry and tree crops. The agriculture sector, including forestry and tree crops, is best placed to influence food production and the consumption of nutritious foods necessary for a healthy and active live. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture / nutrition-sensitive forestry and tree production aims to maximize the impact of nutrition outcomes while minimizing the unintended negative nutritional consequences of relevant policies and interventions on the consumer. It is agriculture, including forestry and tree crops, with a nutrition lens that is needed, and does not detract from the sector’s own goals.

There is increasing attention to addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition through agriculture and its sub-sectors. We would like to point out two main aspects of the importance of forestry and tree crops for food and nutrition security:

Their products contribute potentially to livelihoods of many poor households especially in resource poor and food insecure settings and including during crisis situations like drought. e.g. South of Madagascar where in times of food scarcity people eat wild fruits and use forest as basis for their livelihoods in order to survive.

Furthermore, forestry and trees play an important role as providers of fruits and other tree products like nuts etc that are important part of a healthy diet. The prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases is increasing dramatically in many countries. Diet related factors are among the risk factors of NCDs. A healthy diet for the risk reduction of NCDS contains among others the regular consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are also provided by trees.

The Draft Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013–2020 that will be presented at the next World Health Assembly in May 2013 to Member States, affirms that enabling environments are important of which agriculture is one key factor.  ‘Support national authorities to create enabling environments to reduce modifiable risk factors of Non-communicable Diseases through health-promoting policies in agriculture, food, trade, transport and urban planning’ are essential in a world with rising diet related risk factors and NCDs.

Nutrition-sensitive agriculture addresses all sub-sectors of food and agriculture of which forestry and tree crops are an important one with high potential for improved nutrition, in terms of household nutrition security and healthy diet. The nutrition lens in forestry and tree production includes a consistent focus on nutritional outcomes and indicators within national policies and programmes to improve food and nutrition security and to combat the multiple burden of malnutrition (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and overconsumption). At present there are limited experiences with this approach at scale and insufficient existence of technical recommendations to inform policy makers.

Q1. What are the key challenges and bottlenecks hindering a greater contribution of forests, trees on farms and agroforestry systems to food security? These could be as diverse as policy, legal, institutional, practical skills, data etc.

Insufficient investment: Governments and development partners need to increase budget allocations in support of sustainable forest management and rehabilitation of degraded lands. Depending on the condition of the forest, approaches may include protection, management and restoration. Investing in sustainable forest management could be a cost-effective way to support poor households that are vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity. This could reduce investing in more costly social welfare programmes. Sustainable forest management will help mitigate the effects of climate change and will increase forest resilience to help vulnerable communities to better adapt to the negative impacts of climate change.

Inadequate tenure rights: Secure tenure is critical for household food and nutrition security. The lack of secure access rights and land tenure are a disincentive for many poor or marginalized communities and households to invest in managing land more productively, investing in required inputs. Improved tenure and access rights to forest resources could support more sustainable resource management for food and nutrition security.

Insufficient attention to Gender differentiated approach: Women farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43 percent of the global agricultural labour force (FAO). We encourage more emphasis on a gender differentiated approach and this should be addressed in various political and programmatic issues.

Q2. What are some concrete examples of innovative approaches, or good practices that increase the contributions of forests and trees to food security and nutrition goals?

Evaluate forest foods: To make better use of forest foods for improved nutrition and diets, it is necessary to evaluate forest food’s nutrient content and adopt advice on healthy diets and nutrition accordingly. Specific strategies according to health and diet related needs of particular populations or according to the characteristics of the specific agro-forestry zones should be elaborated. Some common nutrition problems and the potential role of forest food are summarized in CIFOR paper(Colfer, Sheil et al. 2006).

Develop forest foods:  After understanding forest foods, development is needed. Agroforestry has the potential to contribute to human nutrition through increased production and availability of particularly nutritious fruits, leaves and other products through general diversification of diets. A study in Zimbabwe by the World Agroforestry Centre and Hanover University showed that many households consumed large amounts of fruit and generated considerable income from indigenous fruits. Within households, children were the main consumers of fruit. Research and development should focus on on-farm production of indigenous trees, production of new products from indigenous fruits, and expanded production of selected exotic species (Swallow and Ochola 2006).

Generate income from forests and trees: Where food and nutrition insecurity is related to limited opportunities for employment or income generation, income from forests and trees on farms can make a significant contribution to rural households’ income and their food and nutrition security. Also, the creation of small or medium-sized forest-based enterprises can help secure better market access and add value to harvested products (FAO 2011).

Increase local control: A clear sense of ownership helps give local people the sense of responsibility to conserve forest resources and the incentive to invest in sustainable management.

Extension workers to be trained in relevant nutrition and dietary aspects of forest and tree crops.

Q3. What is needed for food security policies and strategies to recognize the contributions and value that forests and trees bring?

Collaboration: To increase the role of forests and trees for food and nutrition security, government agencies responsible for forestry need to work more in collaboration with organizations beyond the forestry sector. This includes closer collaboration not only between forestry and other agricultural governmental agencies, but also with relevant sectors like health, education and social development.

Nutrition-sensitivity: Challenges are how to make respective policies sensitive to nutrition without detracting from the sector’s own goals. How to incorporate nutrition outcomes and objectives right from the planning stage. How to sensitize politicians and decision makers about this necessity.

Monitoring and assessment: Monitoring and impact assessment studies need to give more attention to understand the links between agroforestry, nutrition status, and health. Much more work is needed in this area. One example is Swallo and Ochola (2006) who present a simple conceptual framework of agroforestry, health, and nutrition linkages that focuses on five pathways between agroforestry and health, dubbed the MINER pathways: M—medicinal plant conservation, domestication, and propagation; I—income earned and inputs saved through improvements in the farm resource base and products for sale; N—nutritious agroforestry foods, including fruits and leaves; E—changes in ecosystem structure and function that affect disease risk and transmission; and R—responses of agroforestry priorities and program design to changes in farmers’ circumstances resulting from health and nutrition problems. In all these efforts, a gender differentiated approach is key.