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May 16, 2013

Forests and Trees Key to Food Sustainability

by Kim Lewis

The International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition wrapped up on Wednesday, May 15, in Rome.
The event, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, brought scientists and leaders from around the world together to address the importance of including forests and agroforestry systems in discussions for solutions to world hunger. 

The FAO said forests, trees and agroforestry systems contribute to food security and nutrition in a number of ways, but the critical role forests play in food sustainability has been over-looked as a reliable, readily available source of food for people, especially in developing nations.

Douglas McGuire is the team leader of the forests resources management team for the forestry department of the FAO.  He said a big part of making sure the forest sector becomes an integral part of discussions on food security is creating the awareness of its vital role.

“We tend to approach the world in our different silos and not really look at the importance of how trees and forests are really contributing in a really significant way in many communities around the world to food security,” he explained.

He also pointed out that it is rare that in talking about agricultural policies and land use policies, the two sectors are combined in a way that people see as available resources.

One of the big highlights that came out on the first day of the conference was the critical role insects play in fighting world hunger. While, insects stole the spotlight at the conference, McGuire added there are a lot of edible products that come out of forests and tree based systems.

“In terms of food products, either direct or indirect, you have the production of many non-wood forests products, mushrooms that are coming from forests ecosystems.  You have indirect services as well that are coming and supporting food production and agricultural production.  So there is a whole range of goods and services that are coming,” said McGuire.

One important thing that is over-looked he explained, is the need for long-term support to sustain agricultural systems.  He said many forests are providing ecosystem services by helping to regulate water flow, and helping to protect against soil erosion.

McGuire explained these types of services are necessary for not only sustainable crop and livestock production, but sustainable agriculture overall.   

He also warned that unless the agricultural systems are increased to the point where they are able to provide higher productivity over a long period of time, the world’s food resources could be in trouble because agriculture production would be limited.

McGuire emphasized that this conference is significant because it is the first international conference that really looked at the importance of trees and forests to agricultural food security and nutrition. He said these sectors have a lot to offer in terms of food security not just as an afterthought, but as a necessity. 

“We’re hoping that from this we’re going to see significant changes in policies that so far have been just focused on food production, that will now realize the importance of forests and trees and incorporate those fully into policies that will translate into better action on the ground,” said McGuire.

He said this conference was the bridging of a very big gap that has been present for many years.