Forest and Water Programme

Editorial: Forests, water and food


On 24 February 2016, FAO hosted an event at headquarters in Rome to address the findings of its recent publication “Mapping the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food insecurity”. The study revealed that 329 million mountain dwellers in developing countries are vulnerable to food insecurity – an alarming increase of 30 percent compared to the year 2000. Mountain peoples are also likely to suffer from poverty, exposure to natural disasters, and a lack of access to markets, infrastructure and training, all problems that are further compounded by climate change.

This situation requires immediate action both within FAO, as part of the Strategic Framework, and beyond. We will need to scale up our partnership activities to strengthen the alliance of organizations and peoples committed to breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger of mountain communities, for the benefit of sustainable development as a whole.

Mountains are home to many of the world’s forests, and it is impossible to overstate the importance of forests to the water cycle or of water to the food-security cycle. This year, when we celebrate the International Day of Forests on 21 March, we will be highlighting the links between forests and water. Forests regulate water flow and filter the water that enters our rivers, lakes, streams and groundwater, increasing the quality of water available and contributing to year-round supplies, even during drier seasons. They also transpire water into the atmosphere, supporting the formation of clouds and rain.

Worldwide, forested watersheds and wetlands provide a huge 75 percent of our freshwater resources. That may not come as a surprise for rural areas. For example, over 70 percent of rainfall in the Rio de la Plata river basin – the breadbasket for much of the world – originates from evapotranspiration from the Amazon forest.

In Africa, there is strong evidence that the extensive deforestation currently taking place in the central tropical belt is affecting water supplies in other parts of the continent, such as Ethiopia in the east. It is a sobering thought that forest management decisions – or a lack of them – can have such a serious effect on communities thousands of miles away. In Malawi, people are migrating to the highlands, overusing wood for fuel and cutting down natural forest, leading to water scarcity and food insecurity.

An immense body of literature shows that climate change is exacerbating all the traditional natural resource management challenges. Without a global effort to protect – and expand – the standing forest, we will succumb to a vicious cycle: less forest, less water, less food for the less well-to-do people of the world…

I invite you to reflect upon these challenges and our collective role in tackling them as we mark the International Day of Forests on 21 March.


Mr Castro-Salazar, a national of Costa Rica, was a Professor in the fields of Natural Resources, Environmental Economics and Policy at the post-graduate INCAE Business School, Costa Rica. He also lectured at the Harvard Institute for International Development and is a Fellow of the Mossavar-Rahmani Centre for Business and Government, Harvard University, USA. Between 1994 and 2014, Mr Castro-Salazar held ministerial positions in Costa Rica as Minister of National Resources, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications. Before joining FAO, Mr Castro-Salazar served as Chairman of CO2 Consorcio. On 10 February 2016, he was appointed Assistant Director-General, FAO Forestry Department.