The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) 2017 Report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI) estimates that 815 million people go hungry every day, despite the fact that more than enough food is produced to feed us all. Feeding the world is the most important challenge of our generation and, as advocated by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we need concerted efforts from all corners of the globe to end hunger and food insecurity in our lifetime.
Many people think that hunger means not having enough (or not) food to eat, or not having enough money to eat, but the problem of food insecurity and hunger is much more complex. These factors, to name a few, include adequate food production, safe and healthy cooking and eating practices, as well as sufficient nutrient intake to avoid hidden hunger, or a lack of vitamins. and minerals in the daily diet.
How do forests fit into the fight against food insecurity and hunger?
Although not so widely known, the contributions of forests to sustainable agriculture and to improving food security and nutrition are vital. Covering a third of the planet’s land surface, forests are estimated to be a major resource for more than 2.4 billion people, who depend on forest goods and services for the direct provision of food, fuelwood, materials. construction, drugs, jobs and cash income. .
Wood is used by around a third of the world’s population to cook their food, while 750 million people use wood to boil water to make it drinkable. In economic terms, the sale of wood and non-wood products is estimated at around US $ 730 billion worldwide, providing income for around 80 million people. In addition, forest foods are an integral part of the rural diet and serve as safety nets in times of food scarcity. These include wild foods from forests, which feed millions of rural people, as well as wild animals and edible insects from forests, which are often the main source of protein. Much of the world’s accessible fresh water comes from wooded watersheds and wetlands, which provide 75 percent of domestic, agricultural, industrial and environmental needs.
Forests also provide essential ecosystem services that support sustainable agriculture by regulating water flows, stabilizing soils, maintaining soil fertility, regulating climate and providing viable habitat for wild pollinators and predators. of agricultural pests. Forests also play a key role in regulating the climate. When managed sustainably, they can absorb around 10 percent of global carbon emissions, mitigate climate change and its impact on food production.
Despite its importance, the role of forests in food security and nutrition is often overlooked. According to the FAO, 80 percent of the current global net forest loss of 3.3 million hectares per year is mainly due to agricultural conversion, both the expansion of large-scale commercial agriculture and small-scale agriculture and subsistence.
As stated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global community is working to ensure a sustainable future for all. Within this framework, forests and their roles in food security and nutrition will remain vital and integral parts of our livelihoods, either directly or indirectly, as they have been for millennia. Forests are more than natural resources and assets: they are part of human culture, identity, knowledge and history, and especially for those who live in and near them, they are at the heart of their life.
To move forward, the urgency now is to better recognize and reflect the contribution of forests to food security and nutrition and their compromises in terms of sustainable forestry, food security and agricultural policies, and development. policies. Indeed, in October 2017, during a historic session for the forestry sector, the 44th session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) approved new and far-reaching voluntary policy recommendations to the role of sustainable forestry in achieving food security and nutrition. This was a major attempt at the global level to ensure the simultaneous achievement of sustainable forestry, agriculture, food security and nutrition.
What else needs to be done?
action can be taken to improve available data and information relevant for multisectoral policy making to align food security and nutrition policies in agriculture, forestry, livestock, fisheries , energy, mining, health and other relevant sectors. In order to fully recognize and integrate the contributions of forests to food security and nutrition, policies will need to be formulated around the provision of secure land and forest rights and equitable access to resources.
The role of education and training is also essential. Additional capacities can be developed by expanding forestry studies at higher education institutions around the world and by modifying their curricula. These should be adapted to reflect the latest information and knowledge on the complex and rapidly changing dynamics between sustainable forests, agriculture and nutrition in the context of climate change, conflict, population growth and economic development. .
At the same time, much more forest-related research and development is needed, including more in-depth knowledge and innovative technologies on how forest products can contribute more to diverse diets. This could include, for example, mapping the multiple health and nutritional properties of edible forest foods that we all value, as an authoritative area of research to address hidden hunger.
The future of forests and food security affects the well-being of every individual on this planet, and integrated and concerted efforts are therefore crucial. It is only when our joint efforts are combined with coordinated actions that our generations and future can fully appreciate the importance of forests for sustainable food security and nutrition, as well as the many other benefits that healthy forests provide.