Can forests help solve global hunger?

Farmer in Malawi

It is widely known that about one billion people globally still suffer from hunger. The majority live in Africa and Asia. What is less known is that malnutrition ̶ from under-5 stunting to adult obesity ̶ affects nearly every country on the planet. In fact, just over one third of the global population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies. Also less known is that forest foods and tree products such as wild fruits, leaves, seeds, nuts, roots, tubers, mushrooms, honey and bushmeat ­­­̶ sometimes referred to as Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFPs) ̶ provide many of the essential nutrients that can help combat micronutrient deficiencies.

We have increasing evidence to back this: according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date published by IUFRO and involving 60 of the most globally renowned researchers, one billion people around the world depend on forests and trees for balanced diets and sustainable incomes. This figure reaches over 2.4 billion people if we include fuelwood for cooking, making forests fundamental to the livelihoods of about one-third of the world’s people – rural and urban, women and men, young and old. Forests also deliver important ecosystem services like pollination and fresh water which support agriculture.

Yet a growing body of knowledge also tells us that people who live in forests or have an interest in forest resources need to have a say in how they are managed if they are to be preserved. A key part of this entails securing forest rights for indigenous peoples, local communities and smallholders, but also providing them with the resources necessary to benefit and at the same time protect the world’s forests, such as information, finance and access to markets and training. Community-based forestry and forest and farm producer organizations are demonstrated pathways to managing forests sustainably while improving livelihoods and increasing food security and incomes.

There are rarely silver bullets when it comes to complex challenges like food insecurity. Forests may not be the only solution, but combined with agriculture, forests can make a significant contribution to the global food security challenges of today and tomorrow. What do you think?

Read more about the sub-theme “Forests for socioeconomic development and food security”.

Photo: Nelson Mkwaila in Malawi introduced fertilizer trees in his maize and fruits fields.
Photo courtesy: Charlie Pye-Smith (World Agroforestry Centre/ICRAF)

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