FAO reports that 925 million people are under-nourished and 2 billion are affected by micronutrient malnutrition. Unsustainable development models are degrading the natural environment and threatening the ecosystems and the biodiversity that will be needed for future food and nutrition security.
Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. FAO defines four criteria that must be met simultaneously to meet food security objectives: food must be physically available, economically accessible, and usable, and these three conditions must be relatively stable over time.
World Food Day
World Food Day (WFD) is celebrated annually on October 16th in honour of the foundation of the FAO in 1945. This year’s theme is “Sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition”.
Forests occupy a third of Earth’s land
Forests occupy one-third of the Earth’s land area, and trees outside forests occur on about another half of the global land area. The role of forests and trees in human well-being and food security is significant.
Africa has 675 million hectares of forests, which is about 23 per cent of its land area. The continent has lost 3.5 million hectares annually from 2000 to 2010. There is considerable deforestation, as well as land and forest degradation due to the rapid expansion of human and livestock populations. Severe soil erosion would need to be restored, but poor farmers do not have the resources necessary to invest in soil restoration, so they move to new sites when possible.
Prof. Godwin Kowero, African Forest Forum, www.ksla.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Godwin-Kowero.pdf
- For detailed data on forest cover and deforestation rates per country, consult http://www.docstoc.com/docs/127620543/FRA2010GlobaltablesEnJune29
Forests and trees provide populations with food, fuel, fibre and essential ecosystem services. They are crucial for agricultural production, because they protect soil and water, maintain soil fertility, help regulate climate, provide habitat for wild pollinators and predators of agricultural pests, and constitute a rich store of biodiversity. Forests can help meet the global challenges of the future, such as mitigating and adapting to climate change, ensuring the adequate supply of fresh water, eradicating hunger and increasing food security.
At an FAO meeting in Namibia in October 2013, experts arrived at the following conclusion and implications for Africa:
- Forest foods and tree products, such as leaves, seeds, nuts, honey, fruits, mushrooms, insects and game animals, have been important components of rural diets for millennia and may be key in times of crisis. Forests and trees outside forests are also important sources of fodder for livestock, especially in dry lands, and also a refuge in extreme dry periods.
- Indigenous peoples and other local communities hold an immense wealth of traditional knowledge on the cultivation, harvesting and preparation of forest foods and tree products and on sustainable land management. Traditional forest-agriculture landscapes tend to have high resilience in the face of environmental and social perturbations.
- UNDP estimates 615 million people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on traditional biomass for cooking. The use of wood as a source of energy is vital for local economies and for maximizing the palatability and nutritional value of foods that require cooking.
- The ecosystem services provided by forests and trees outside forests make important contributions to agricultural production and forest-dependent communities.
- Forested wetlands and mangrove forests help protect coastal zones from flooding, thereby increasing the stability of food production in these areas. Forests also play vital roles in riverine and coastal fisheries, which are often particularly important in poor communities. Mountain forests provide essential ecosystem services, such as the provision of high-quality water for downstream communities and their agricultural activities.
- Forests are often particularly important for rural women, who use them to help ensure the food security of their families. Apart from fuelwood collection, women also harvest a wide range of forest products, such as medicines and wild foods, for household use and sale. In many countries, women are also involved in enterprises to add value to non-wood forest products to supplement household incomes. http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/028/mi227e.pdf
Policies for forests and food
How can forests be saved when there is so much need for land, especially for agriculture? The leading research organization on forests, CIFOR, promotes a landscape approach: “We need a new paradigm for development and environment that counteracts current silos between agriculture, forestry, fisheries and conservation”.
National laws can deliver significant improvements to forests and to people who depend on them. The World Future Council is an international organisation that identifies and promotes best policies. In 2011, the World Future Council presented its Future Policy Award to exemplary forest policies that promote the sustainable protection, conservation, and use of forests. The National Forest Policy of Rwanda, initiated in 2004, won the gold award. Forest cover in Rwanda has increased by 37 per cent since 1990. Massive reforestation and planting activities that involved the local population were undertaken, and new measures such as agroforestry and education on forest management were implemented.
When analysing key success factors, the World Future Council found that political will is crucial for making the protection and conservation of forests a national priority. In Rwanda, the forest sector is benefiting from national policies, programmes and projects that make forests a priority in interventions relating to the environment, food security, energy, water, land management and soil conservation. Further lessons from Rwanda include: set a clear, measurable target; build strong institutions with sufficient budgets and decentralised governance structures; implement anti-corruption measures and law enforcement; and create benefits for local communities and generate incomes for local populations.
Neuberger, Ina. 2013. “Forest Policies can be at the Centre of Change: Looking at the Landscape Approach on a National Level”. Nature & Faune Magazine, Enhancing natural resources management for food security in Africa, FAO Regional Office for Africa, 27 (2): 18-21.
World Future Council
The World Future Council brings the interests of future generations to the centre of policy-making. Its 50 eminent members from around the globe have already successfully promoted change. The Council addresses challenges to our common future and provides decision makers with effective policy solutions. The World Future Council is registered as a charitable foundation in Hamburg, Germany.