Contribution of forests to food security and nutrition needs more attention

Conference on Forests and Nutrition calls for secure tenure for smallholders

16 May 2013, Rome - Governments, civil society and the private sector should ensure and strengthen the contributions of forests, trees and agroforestry systems to food security and nutrition, said participants in the first-ever International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition (13-15 May), organized by FAO.

Globally, millions of people depend on forests for their livelihoods - directly through the consumption and sale of foods harvested in forests, and indirectly through forest-related employment and income generation, forest ecosystem services, and forest biodiversity.

Forest foods, such as leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruits, mushrooms, insects and other forest animals, have been important components of rural diets for millennia. An estimated 2.6 billion people rely on fuelwood, including charcoal, for cooking their food.

Incentives for small-scale forest producers

The conference participants agreed that small-scale forest producers should be encouraged to strengthen their involvement in agroforestry, tree‐growing, small‐scale wood processing and the provision of ecosystem services.

Microfinance loans to small and medium-sized forest enterprises in many cases have resulted in gains  in family incomes and better health, nutrition and quality of life in rural areas, especially when microloans are given to women.

Improved access to trees and land

The potential economic and environmental gains from secure land tenure are substantial, and tree tenure can also lead to fundamental improvements in land management. The conference stressed the need for improving access rights to trees and land to create significant incentives for farmers to engage in agroforestry, for example, by applying the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, which were recently adopted by the Committee on World Food Security.

Forest ecosystem services foster food production

The conference highlighted the essential role of ecosystem services provided by forests and trees to agricultural production, which include protecting water and soil resources, contributing to soil development processes, including increasing soil fertility, regulating climate and providing habitat for wild pollinators and predators of agricultural pests.

Forested wetlands and mangrove forests help protect coastal areas from flooding, thereby increasing the stability of food production in coastal lands. Forests also play vital roles in riverine and coastal fisheries, which are often particularly important to poor communities. Mountain forests provide vital ecosystem services, particularly "blue" fresh water for downstream forests and dependent communities.

Intersectoral cooperation

According to the conference recommendations, it is essential to ensure that relevant sector policies, including those on agriculture, forests and trees, as well as food security and nutrition, are coordinated across sectors, and that all stakeholders, from forest‐dependent communities to ministries, are actively involved in their development and implementation.

More than 400 participants attended the conference, including governments, civil-society organizations, local communities, donors and international agencies from more than 100 countries. 

Conference participants further encouraged FAO to promote the conference recommendations to the next sessions of the Committee on World Food Security and the Committee on Forestry, as well as to the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) to be held at FAO headquarters in Rome on 19-21 November 2014.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Opening Session, Forests for Food Security and Nutrition Conference, FAO headquarters, Rome, 13 May.