New report says forests and trees could be major factor in efforts to end global hunger

A billion people worldwide depend on forests and trees for balanced diets and sustainable incomes.

Native forestland in South-West Cote d'Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

Native forestland in South-West Cote d’Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger, with the majority of the hungry living in Africa and Asia. Forests and forestry are essential to achieve food security as the limits of boosting agricultural production are becoming increasingly clear.

At the heart of a new report is the understanding that forests and trees are critically important to food security and dietary diversity for improved nutrition, because conventional agricultural strategies are falling short in eliminating global hunger and providing nutritious foods.

The report is the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date on the interactions between forests and food. It was launched during the 11th session of the UN Forum on Forests in New York on 6 May 2015, and outlines the potential of forests to improve food security and nutrition, and to ensure the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Entitled “Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition, A Global Assessment Report” the report is an initiative of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) and has been compiled by over 60 scientists who are part of the Global Forest Expert Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Food Security.

“What the report is trying to get us to focus on is the relatively neglected contribution that forests and trees make to food security and nutrition,” said Bhaskar Vira, Chair of the Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security. “Not necessarily neglected by the people who actually consume them but possibly neglected in some of the policy discourses.”

Vira acknowledges that conventional agriculture will remain the major source of people’s nutrition needs, but forests and tree-based systems have an important complementary role in feeding the world, particularly in supplementing diets and providing nutrients.

Scientists from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) were lead authors of two chapters of the report.

“Forests and other tree-based systems such as agroforestry provide a number of highly nutritious edible tree crops such as fruits, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and edible oils that can diversify diets and address seasonal food and nutritional gaps,” said Stepha McMullin, Social Scientist at ICRAF and one of the lead authors of the chapter on understanding the roles of forests and trees in providing food. “Due to the higher resilience of trees compared to annual crops, tree foods play an important role in periods of drought and help overcome hunger due to food shortages, especially when staple crops fail or before they are ready for harvest.”

“Countries and regions need to institute policies which endorse agroforestry and tree planting using multi-functional trees to provide food, timber, fuelwood, fodder, medicine and environmental services,” said Ramni Jamnadass, a leader of the Tree Diversity, Domestication, and Delivery program of ICRAF and co-author with McMullin. “We also need to see a range of species for restoring degraded landscapes, supporting productive farming and food systems, and for conserving valuable genetic diversity.”

Cashew apple and nut

Cashew apple and nut

Tree foods are often rich in vitamins, proteins and other nutrients. For example, the iron content of dried seeds of the African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa) and raw cashew nut (Anacardium occidentale) are the same as, or even higher than, that of chicken.

Forests are also essential for firewood and charcoal. In developing countries, 2.4 billion households use these renewable biofuels for cooking and heating. In India and Nepal, for example, even better off rural households depend on wood fuels.

The study comes in the lead up to the United Nations’ finalization of the Sustainable Development Goals, designed to integrate economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability and address issues such as poverty, hunger, the unequal distribution of natural resources, food insecurity and other global challenges.

“We found that changes in policies, corporate strategies, social norms and values, and technical developments can improve livelihoods and human wellbeing in forest contexts,” said Henry Neufeldt, head of ICRAF’s climate change program and the lead author on the chapter on public and private sectors “Overall, public and private sector reforms and social changes achieve their greatest impact when they go hand in hand.”

The report and associated policy brief are available for download on the IUFRO website:

Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition – A Global Assessment Report

Read a summary of the report on the UN website: New UN-backed report emphasizes possible contribution of forests to ending hunger

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Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton is the Head of Communications at the World Agroforestry Centre.

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