Why food waste is a concern for tropical forest conservation

Does wasting food lead to the loss of tropical forests?

Sacred wood in Cote d'Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

Sacred wood in Cote d’Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

Though not obvious at first glance, researchers say clear links exist between food loss and wastage, and deforestation. This is because clearing intact forests to produce both commodity crops and subsistence crops is one of the main factors (or drivers) that lead to their depletion, particularly in the tropics and subtropics.

“If food waste is not abated, then the land required to produce food is going to increase, especially in view of a sharply increasing global population,” warned Lalisa Duguma, scientist, Sustainable Landscapes and Integrated Climate Actions, at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins. Lalisa was presenting at a well attended side event of the XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban, 7-11 September 2015.

A background paper titled: Tropical Forests: Current state, key pressures and possible measures cites a study by Stanford University’s HK Gibbs et al., which found that between 1980 and 2010, over half of all new agricultural land in the tropics and subtropics was created by clearing intact forests. Though global rates of deforestation have fallen recently, tropical forests are still shrinking and much more needs to be done, said Lalisa.

Food Waste. Photo courtesy of FAO/John Isaac

Food Waste. Photo courtesy of FAO/John Isaac

Currently, around a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. Fifty-six per cent of this loss occurs in the developed world while the rest occurs in the developing world. The reasons for food loss and waste vary by region and even locality, and need specific interventions to address them along the entire food value chain. Many UN organizations, particularly FAO and UNEP, have been strongly advocating against food waste and loss. And in September, as part of SDG 12 (Sustainable consumption and production), the UN adopted a worldwide goal to reduce per capita food waste by half by the year 2030.

Borrow best practices

Among the solutions to the problems of food loss and waste include consumer education, agri-processing to prevent spoilage; taking actions to reduce post-harvest losses; and market-based interventions.

But food waste is just one of the inter-related issues that need attention in order to reduce tropical forest loss, said Lalisa at the Forestry Congress. Other priority actions would be:

  • Stepping up market incentives and broad awareness on certified forest products
  • Investing in promoting legal timber rules and regulations
  • Increasing public funding for conservation
  • Promoting sustainable production schemes
  • Tackling corruption in the forestry sector
  • Promoting alternative renewable energy sources, and
  • Implementing policies and strategies for sustainable forestry management and global schemes aimed at reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, such as REDD+.
Lalisa Duguma presents at the XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Lalisa Duguma presents at the XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban. Photo by Daisy Ouya/ICRAF

Countries in the global North and South need to work together in these efforts, he emphasized. It is no use, for instance, for a Northern country to insist on tropical timber certification if the people in the producing country in the global South do not understand the importance of or process needed to achieve certified forest products.

“All entities, regions, sectors and actors, must work in concerted efforts to stop tropical deforestation,” said Lalisa. This collaboration is especially important in trade agreements and negotiations for commodities such as timber, cocoa, oil palm and others that are produced from or impact on tropical forests.

And instead of looking into new methods to achieve the needed reduction in forest loss, Lalisa and his co-authors said countries could readily borrow and adapt methods that have worked elsewhere.

Brazil, for instance, has recorded outstanding success with the Soy Moratorium of 2006 (producers agreed not to trade in soy produced in areas deforested in order to expand soy plantations in the Amazon biome), and the Beef Moratorium of 2009 (signed by four major beef Brazilian exporters and by various beef retailers, undertaking not to buy beef from animal production in illegally deforested areas).

In his talk, Lalisa also pointed the link between deforestation in the tropics and land degradation; degraded land produces much less food than fertile land. It follows that reversing land degradation through practices like agroforestry, and using climate-smart farming techniques, is one approach to reduce the pressure on tropical forests.

Other speakers at the interesting WFC Congress session, organized by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), discussed the state of temperate, boreal and mid-latitude forests . These forests are different from tropical forests, but are just as important as for the planet’s functioning, and need conservation.

One Planet

They called for a North-South venture for achieving the goal of sustaining the forests for present and future generations.

Besides their contribution of globally important commodities, tropical forests— located roughly between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and covering parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America— are also home to the world’s largest river basins, richest biodiversity hotspots and major carbon sinks that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, important for mitigating global warming.

“We need a ‘One Planet’ concept to save tropical forests —everyone should join hands and take measures in a collaborative mood,” said Lalisa.

Dr. Lalisa Duguma’s presentation was part of a World Forestry Congress side event titled: No North without South, no South without North: the urgent need for an integrated view on global forests. See http://www.fao.org/about/meetings/world-forestry-congress/programme/side-events/en/

Event Description

The Earth system is an integral entity comprising a multitude of interconnected components. Forests of each biome impact the Earth system and vice versa. Important system interdependencies, e.g. with respect to climate, are often neglected in national and international actions and hence call for a holistic and integrated view on the all global forests. This event will present the risks and challenges global forests face, their system interconnectivities and mutual impacts. Issues discussed will range from deforestation in the tropics to impacts of climate change on forests on permafrost, and from problems of transition to sustainable forest management (SFM) to rising conflicts for land. The event builds on presentations by renowned experts (co-organizers), followed by a discussion with all participants in order to address fundamental questions of global forestry: 1. Why do we have to consider forests globally? 2. Which lessons did we learn from international efforts to stop deforestation in the tropics? 3. Are boreal and dry land forests turning into tipping elements for our climate system? 4. Does adaptive forestry contradict the societal demand for ecosystems services (ESS)? 5. Can we balance international efforts between the South and the North? 6. Which knowledge gaps on global forests integration are critical? 7. Can systems analysis and integrated modeling help reconciling the full diversity of ESS within the SFM paradigm? The event will bring together a variety of forest stakeholders, i.e. forest industry, NGOs, researchers and academia, governmental decision makers, policy experts and the public to stimulate a broad and inclusive discussion of the global challenges identified above, their impacts on sustainability and human well-being. We will investigate the urgent need for actions in all aspects of research, policy- and decision making. For the community, we formulate and publish a list of the most critical challenges for global forests integration.

Convening organizations

IIASA – ESM International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria – Florian Kraxner, Anatoly Shvidenko

MCC Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Germany – Sabine Fuss

WWF – Int. World Wide Fund for Nature International, Switzerland – Rodney Taylor

SB-RAS Institute of Forest, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia – Alexander Onuchin

NRCan Canadian Forest Service (Natural Resources Canada), Pacific Forestry Centre, Canada – Werner A. Kurz

CAF Chinese Academy of Forestry, China – Shuirong Wu

USDA-FS US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station, USA – Richard Birdsey

KU, BK21+ELEC Korea University, BK21+ELEC: Brain Korea 21+ Ecoleader Education Center, Korea – Woo-Kyun LEE

ICRAF – ASB World Agroforestry Center, Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins, Kenya – Peter A. Minang

INPE National Institute for Space Research, Brazil – Gilberto Camara


Florian Kraxner (kraxner@iiasa.ac.at)




Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences (bels.org) and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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