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Conference Emphasizes Forests’ Key Role in Food Production

  • Kim Lewis

Logo of International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition

Logo of International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition

The first International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition concluded in Rome on May 15. It was sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Forestry experts left the meeting optimistic about progress made toward getting policy makers to include forests in their food security deliberations.

FAO said the conference aimed at fostering increased appreciation of the crucial role forests, trees, and agroforestry systems can play in improving the food security and nutrition of rural people, especially in developing countries.

In addition, FAO discussed ways of integrating knowledge of forests systems in policy decisions at the national and international levels.

Forestry experts and scientists attending the conference left excited about the possibilities of what the future holds as policy makers begin to understand the crucial role forests play in food sustainability.

“The main challenge has been getting forests and food security onto the global agenda,” said Terry Sunderland, principal scientist at the Centers for International Forestry Research (CIFOR.) “This conference really did highlight how important forests and trees are in complex landscapes, for food security and nutrition.”

Sunderland lamented that previous discourse about food security was rather redundant.

“When people talk about food security, we think in terms of more rice, more wheat, more agricultural commodities rather than the role of forests and trees in achieving food security,” he said.

The CIFOR scientist said the recent conference is helping change the focus.

“The recognition of that has sort of been embraced much more widely by policy makers and others at this meeting. And the conference statement basically is headed, in that forests and trees are essential to global food security,” he said.

Sunderland said evidence presented at this week’s conference underscore the importance of placing forests and forested landscapes on the food security agenda. He noted that forty percent of the world’s food is grown by small-holder farmers in complex landscapes.

“Up to 1.6 billion people derive some form of income or contribution to their livelihoods from forested landscapes,” he said.

Sunderland emphasized the need for people everywhere to recognize and accept these figures. He said this week’s conference was instrumental in highlighting that point.