SFM for food security

Forests are subsistence “safety nets” for the rural poor who depend in various ways on forests and trees outside forests for their food security and nutrition. Such people often depend directly on forests for food, including tubers, fruits, edible leaves, mushrooms and honey, but also animal-sourced food (bushmeat, fish and insects), and for a range of medicinal products.

Forests also provide rural people with fuelwood for cooking and heating, construction materials for shelter, and fodder for animals. Access to woodfuel ensures proper cooking of foods and sterilization of water, and thus prevention of food-borne illness.

Forests and trees not only contribute to food security through direct provision of food or energy for cooking, but also indirectly through income generation from sale of wood and NWFPs in local, national and international markets, and from forest-related employment.

Furthermore, forests provide critical ecosystem services that are essential for sustainable agriculture and to food production as a whole, including inland fisheries, as well as to human health and well-being. The most important ecosystem services that provide direct support to agricultural activities are water regulation, soil protection and nutrient circulation, pest control and pollination. With regards to pollination, wild pollinators fertilize the majority of flowering plants globally, improving forest regeneration and the production of many forest plants. Productivity and revenue of pollinator-dependent crops benefit substantially from forest proximity (and distance from forest or reduced forest cover lead to lower crop revenue).

Forests provide essential ecosystem services to support agriculture. ©FAO/Daniel Hayduk

Food security can be defined as the state in which “all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food security is fully achieved when food is physically available (availability); economically, physically and socially accessible (access); and usable (utilization); and when these three conditions are stable over time (stability). Each of these dimensions of food security is affected by the health and vigour of forests and trees outside forests; therefore, the role of SFM is vital for sustainable food security and nutrition.

Contributions of forests, trees and agroforestry systems to food security and nutrition are usually poorly reflected in national development and food security strategies. Managing forests and trees to optimize their contributions to food security and nutrition, locally and globally, short-term and long-term, requires coordination across different sectors at multiple scales and within different timeframes.

SFM strategies could use food security and nutrition concerns, in particular food security and nutrition of the most vulnerable and marginalized forest-dependent people, as a lens to set their priorities and define the best balance between the different functions and objectives of forests and trees. As such, sustainable forestry is a key component of sustainable food systems. Conversely, optimizing the contributions of forests and trees to food security and nutrition could be a key objective of SFM.

Related SFM Toolbox modules:

Forests food security and nutrition

Wood energy 


last updated:  Monday, May 31, 2021