There is no need to cut down forests to produce more food, according to a new report State of the World’s Forests 2016 released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Instead, communities need to urgently promote interactions between agriculture and forestry to build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security.
“We can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately. Both the [2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Paris Agreement on climate change] call for a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability across all agricultural sectors and food systems. Forests and forestry have key roles to play in this regard,” stressed FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva.
Large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40% and 33% of forest conversion respectively in tropical regions. The remaining 27% of forests is lost to urbanisation and mining.
“Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than through expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of forests,” said Eva Müller, director of FAO’s Forestry Policy and Resources Division. “What we need is better cross-sectoral coordination of policies on agriculture, forestry, food and land use, better land use planning, effective legal frameworks, and stronger involvement of local communities and smallholders.”
Forests are also a key source of food and fuel, which serve as safety nets in times of food scarcity.
According to the report, more than 20 countries have succeeded in improving national levels of food security while maintaining or increasing forest cover since 1990. In fact, 12 countries—Algeria, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Vietnam—managed to increase forest cover by over 10%, demonstrating that forests do not have to be sacrificed to produce more food.
Forests also play a vital role in sustainable agricultural development such as the water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, influencing local climate and providing habitat protection for fauna.