Growing trees on farms to reduce hunger and poverty
To restore degraded land and provide wood, food, medicine and forage
30 June 2004, Orlando, Florida -- Trees grown on farms could help to alleviate poverty by providing income and food for poor farmers, whose livelihoods are increasingly threatened by harsh environmental conditions and land degradation, FAO said today.
"Smallholder farmers are under increasing threat of food insecurity due to land degradation caused by extreme weather conditions, growing population pressure and inappropriate farming systems," said Hosny El Lakany, Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department, in a message sent to participants at the First World Congress of Agroforestry (27 June-2 July) in Orlando, Florida.
"This, however, can be tackled by growing trees on farms, which provide alternative sources of income and food as well as help to restore degraded land," he added.
Widespread land degradation
About 75 percent of the world's poor - some 1.2 billion people - live in rural areas. Most of them rely on small-scale agriculture and the intensive use of natural resources for nutrients, medicines and other products to generate income. They often live in remote mountain areas and drylands, mostly in Asia and Africa.
In the last two decades, the need to grow more food and improve their living conditions has forced small farmers, often at risk of hunger, to strive for maximum production from the fragile ecosystems they live in. This has resulted in widespread land degradation and soil fertility decline, exacerbating poverty and sometimes generating conflicts over scarce resources. More than 60 percent of degraded land is in Asia and Africa.
Trees as alternative sources of food and income
Trees grown on farms can help the rural poor suffering from hunger and malnutrition to improve soil fertility and can provide them with fruits, leaves, nuts and spices that are important components of their diet, particularly in times of food shortages.
Trees also provide wood products, medicine and forage, and are an important source of income. Fuelwood is also the main source of energy for the rural poor. More than 2 billion people consume wood as fuel.
Diversifying income-generation from natural resources is key to the sustainability of smallholder farms, FAO said.
FAO has been assisting countries in improving the livelihoods of the rural poor by designing policies and developing field projects on agroforestry.
Among them, a two-year community-based FAO project in northern Namibia has enabled local farmers to select, plant and manage fruit tree species and to produce and market fruit-based goods.
In Viet Nam, a project has been launched to diversify agricultural output by planting trees on farms. The project will provide capacity building and technical support for the development of market-oriented forest gardens and agroforestry systems in Quang Nam Province, so that the farmers may benefit from the sale of their farm produce.
By addressing food security, household nutrition and income generation, FAO expects to help smallholder farmers reduce the need to open new forests and woodlands for cultivation, thus allowing the rehabilitation of degraded and deforested areas.
Information Officer, FAO
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