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Forum global sur la sécurité alimentaire et la nutrition • Forum FSN

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

Sibabrata Choudhury

Hello Eva and Fred and dear forum members,

Thanks for bringing in a very pertinent topic and perspective on food and nutrition security in highlighting the importance of forests and forest trees. I am saying so since most of the discussion on food and nutrition security are either centred on (a) farm food production (also linked global food availability and food prices) or (b) external supplementation of food grain, vitamins and micronutrients in order to address various facets of food security. Needless to mention here is the fact that we as global members have failed miserably in tackling the problem of food security in spite of increased levels of production of food grain. 

Having worked closely in promoting rural livelihoods and land rights issues for the past several years I can have the liberty to presume that food and nutrition security at the household level is to a great level related to secure and safe access to land and other natural resource such as forest. In the state of Odisha, in India levels of landlessness are still high in many villages, which is especially more in case of indigenous communities (Scheduled Tribes). The case becomes more pertinent since the promulgation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (known as the Forest Rights Act) in India. This legislation is considered to be landmark legislation for recognising the tribals and other forest dwellers’ distinct residential and cultivation rights over forestlands. Government while admitting that ‘historical injustice’ was done to the tribals by not recognizing their traditional rights over forestland, brought about this effective forest rights framework that recognized, vested and settled forestland under occupation for self-cultivation for livelihood up to four hectares. In this four hectares or less, a non-forest land use in the form of a homestead and agricultural land use was recognized both to an individual or community without attracting the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act as it would have normally done. 

As per latest reports available over 300000 tribals have their rights over forestland recognised. However as usual there have been issues related to incomplete coverage and reduced quantum of land being recognised. Estimates and interaction with the claimants reveal that a majority of claimants have received entitlement to only about 0.01 to 0.8 hectares. Though there have been some efforts towards integrating other development schemes such as the national wage employment scheme, orchard development under the National Horticulture Mission, results have been few and far between. It all boils down to effective implementation and focus on the programme.

Forest dependent communities often collect a variety of seasonal fruits, tubers and medicinal herbs to supplement their nutrition requirements. There is often a gap in systematic research or directed approach toward augmenting this effort. I can’t come across any policy or programme that is directed towards this. Most of the forest development programmes deal with plantation and promoting livelihoods practices that would help the forest dependent communities “reduce” their dependency on forests.

I would suggest that there ought to be Nutrition Action Plans for each communities at each levels - community, regional, state and national levels to address food and nutrition security that would capture the nutrition gaps and provide an approach to address the gap that includes provisions from Government distribution programme and community initiatives to meet food requirements from forests and other natural habitats.

I look forward to participate in the discussion and learn from country experiences in addressing policy gaps and improving implementation of food security policy.

Thanks and best regards,