Course:CONS200/2021/How do forests contribute to food security?

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Revenue obtained from forest products and services promotes greater access to food and nutrition, not just for people who gain money directly from forests, but also indirectly in rural communities through Consumption and investment relationships [1].Food security is the measure of an individual's ability to access food that is safe, nutritious, sufficient in quantity and that meets an individual's needs [2]. As reported by the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security, the term food security can be defined as all people at all time should have access to safe and nutritious foods that meets their needs [3].A forest is an ecosystem that consists of large numbers of trees. These trees can help with nutrient cycling, regulate water provisioning and provide wood which can be important for global food security. Trees can also help deliver clean water to agricultural lands which can enhance soil stability and fertility. This means that these agricultural lands can produce more food which can produce more crop foods [4]. Forests can play a huge in food security because forest ecosystems services support agricultural, livestock, soil protection and pollination [5]. Since forests are able to prevent soil from erosions, there is an increase in the stability of food production. This is why forests are an important contributor to food security.

Forest Offerings

Forest Products

Aside from providing timber and wood products, forests are a source of valuable sustainable food products that help address food insecurity issues. These include honey, fruits, nuts, wild meat, mushrooms, and palm oils to name a few, addressing seasonal food and nutritional gaps and providing the market with a wide range of food products.[6] In particular, some regions have specific species of trees and plants that yield products that are essential to the local population. As an example, mangoes are a nutritious fruit that is an important addition to the diet of people living throughout the tropics because of the ease of access and abundance.[7]

Another example is the babassu palm tree that grows in Brazil, where millions of families in the north of the country depend on this palm tree for their survival. The kernel of the tree is used to produce oil and the sap is used to make wine, and it is thanks to the forests that provide the babassu palm tree that nearly 2 million people have a sustainable source of economic livelihood.[7]

Forests can also integrate with the water cycle; water quality becomes better and cleaner when it goes through the forest ecosystem due to soil, soil filters out the substances like mercury, pesticides, and other polluted chemicals. The forest cover reduces soil erosion and slows down the rate of water release into the river, significantly improving the water quality and quantity. According to the Canadian government, twenty to ninety percent of the rainfall in the forest eventually returns to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration.[8] As such, the forest provides a sustainable source of clean water for consumption by humans and animals. The forest also plays an important role in the ecosystem that provides habitats for animals and fosters the life cycle of other species that contribute to human nutrition. For example, mangrove forests are essential to the life cycles of many of the world’s largest commercial fish species.[7] Other aquatic animals that are edible for humans depend on forest ecosystems to feed and breed, including shrimp, oysters, and crabs.[7]

Nature of the issue/ problem

The State of Global Forests

The world’s forests are mainly divided into 26 species, the largest of which is the Amazon Rainforests, covering an area of about 600.0000 square kilograms[9].These forests have in common a rich biodiversity, which represents all the species in the forest, such as trees, animals, bacteria and so on. Forest ecosystems have a relatively complete biodiversity, because in some pristine forests there are few signs of human activity, so the impact on biodiversity is minimal. In total, 31% of the world's land area is covered by forests, and more than half of this area is intact[10]. The total area of forests on Earth is 4.06 billion hectares, which means that each person can share 5,000 square meters[10], but the distribution of forests is not uniform around the world, for example, in the tropics there are many forests but few people, and in the Arctic there are also forests but few people. Agriculture is still by far the biggest cause of the destruction and reduction of forests. Trees are the main component of forests, but there are more than just trees in forests. The Global Tree Search database shows that there are 60,082 tree species until now[10]. The various components of the forest interact with each other, such as mammals and insects, which help spread seeds or provide them with nutrients on a daily basis. Humans also depend on forests for their livelihoods, including the oxygen and carbon water they produce. And living in communities near forests provides a large number of jobs for humans, such as in Vancouver, where forestry provided 50,599 jobs in 2019[11]. Globally, forests provide about 86,000,000 jobs and help more people have an income[10]. The protection of forests is also important. The establishment of protected areas is the way governments generally use them, but nature reserves are not enough to protect species migration because it encompasses too small an area, so forest management was started. Globally more than 18% of the forest area is protected due to laws establishing protected areas, such as national parks[10]. When establishing protected area in the future, there is also a need to prioritize focus on subtropical humid forests, temperate grasslands and boreal coniferous forests, as they are protected in less than 10% of the area[10].

Forests for Human Health and Well-being

For the development of the human species, personal health and well-being are also decisive factors affecting world society. According to the World Health Organization(WHO), a healthy body is not only in the absence of disease and infirmity but also capable of maintaining good health[12]. Prevention of the causes and treatment of disease is also within the scope of good health. All kinds of illness or infirmity are noticed for measurements of human health. On 25 September 2015, the United Nations took on hundreds of sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda. This plan aims to end all kinds of malnutrition by 2030 in a global range. As the gathering of the World's largest organisms, forests have a long list of products, including wood, fruit, medicine, roots, fungi and other easily perceived services. According to the FAO and UNEP, 2.5 million people depend on forests for providing and managing services. Especially for the abundant forest areas, forest food could be one of the primary sources of nutrition and well-being factors.[13][14]

The State of Food Security

Before the pandemic, the United Nations expected to end global hunger by 2030 [15]. From 2015 to 2020, the incidence of hunger and malnutrition has been stable for five years. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of people experiencing hunger increased from 8.4 percent to 9.9 percent. About 720 million to 811 million people were experiencing hunger in 2020. Compared with 2019, there were about 46 million more people in this hungry predicament in Africa, 57 million more in Asia, and about 14 million more in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020. Close to 1.6 billion people – more than 25% of the world's population – rely on forest resources for their livelihoods, and most of them use trees on farms to generate food and cash[16]. Even more, the incidence of moderate or severe food insecurity showed a noticeable gender gap during the year of COVID-19. Food insecurity among women is 6 percent higher than in 2019; and 10 percent higher among women than men.[13][1]

Current Approaches of Sustainable Forestry for Food Security and Nutrition

Finding and implementing effective approaches for improving food security is immensely important because it allows nations to have enough available and nutritious food for their citizens. When a nation does not succeed to secure enough food, it can lead the nation to experience hunger, an increase in food prices and unemployment due to the economy slowing down [17]. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) 2017 report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition (SOFI) mentions that "about 815 million people are undernourished" [18]. It is also important to acknowledge that there are many links between forests, food security and nutrition. Which makes sustainable forests important for food security. According to a report that was made by the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, it concluded that “sustainable forestry is a key component of sustainable food systems" [19]. Forests are key contributors to food security and nutrition because they "provide essential ecosystem services that support sustainable agriculture by regulating water flows, stabilizing soils, maintaining soil fertility, regulating the climate, and providing a viable habitat for pollinators and predators of agricultural pests" [20]. Forests also provide wood, food, energy and can even create and offer employment to people who do not jobs. Wood is also important because it is used by "one-third of the world's population to cook their food" [20] and it can provide shelters for species living in the forests. In order for forests to help improve food security, there need to be strategies for sustainable forestry. Some strategies for sustainable forestry include disposing of waste properly, avoiding chemical usage, reducing road building, protecting these areas and monitoring the health of the forest. Not all of these strategies can help promote sustainable forestry because "specific practices of a sustainable forestry project vary from forest to forest" [21].

FAO organizes and promotes policy procedures linked to forestry (e.g., the World Forestry Congress, the Committee on Forestry, and the Regional Forestry Commissions) and food security and nutrition on a global scale (e.g. the Committee on World Food Security and Nutrition)[1]. FAO's work on forests for food security and nutrition includes:

  • Global and regional decision-making.
  • Statistics collection and analysis.
  • Legislative and practical application support at the national level.

The World Forestry Congress

The World Forestry Congress (WFC) has the themes of sustainability, resilience, and health of forest resources. WFC has the aims to recognize, enhance and improve: the importance of forest goods and services to national economies; forest resources that are being used to promote livelihoods, health, and well-being; multi-stakeholder cooperation and alliances for sustainable forest resource management and usage[22].

This event brings together the world's forestry community to discuss and analyze the significant concerns in forestry and food security and potential solutions.

Committee on Forestry

The Committee on Forestry (COFO) examines a range of increasingly prominent concerns and links between forests, biodiversity, and people, including: COVID-19's effects on the forest industry and how to respond; forests and their involvement in evolving food systems; contributions to the UN goals on Agricultural Production and Ecosystem Recovery[23].

COFO also plans and prepares for the World Forestry Congress to work on global forest food systems evolution, which moves up action to cease deforestation.

United Nations Forum on Forests

The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) advocates for the sustainable management, protection, and development of all types of forests. The United Nations Forest Instrument was established by the UNFF, which offers a platform for countries to improve sustainable forest management. The Instrument conveys a set of agreed-upon policies and initiatives at the international and national levels[24].

Regional Forestry Commissions

RFC brings together the heads of forestry in each of the world's leading regions to solve the region's most urgent forestry challenges. These regions categorized and included by RFC are Africa, Asian-pacific, Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, Near East and North America. RFC plays a connecting role in the international forest agreement, acting as a bridge between global discourse at the Committee on Forestry (COFO) and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) and national implementation[25].

Committee on World Food Security

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the leading international and intergovernmental framework for all partners to ensure food security and nutrition for everyone. CFS produces and approves policy suggestions and guidelines on a wide variety of food safety and nutrition concerns using a multi-stakeholder, inclusive approach[26].

Food Forest

In addition to the policies and regulating frameworks, the world's actions about the sustainable forest for food security and nutrition are also in the implementation stage. Under the pressure of an increasingly growing population, people have been thinking about multidisciplinary solutions for the sustainability of natural resources and human well-being in the economic, ecological, and sociological aspects.

A food forest is an artificially planted and developed ecosystem that aims to meet human production requirements[27] and copy the patterns of a natural environment. It has the characteristics of location flexibility, production potential and sustainability. According to the Food Forest Project, a food forest could be 1/8 of an acre or 200 acres[28]. The size and range flexibility ensures the availability and accessibility of food forests in urban or peri-urban areas. People could plant them in open streets, communities, parks, or any places where people needed them. Food forests satisfy the needs of food production. Food forests are discovered to have seven layers: canopy (large fruit and nut trees), low tree layer (smaller fruit trees), shrubs (currants and berries), herbaceous (herbs), root (root vegetables), soil surface (ground cover), vertical layer (vines and climbers)[28]. The different layers can grow diverse species of edible vegetations, which provide nutrient utilization for people. Because of the biotic factors, food forests also have the functions of mitigating the climate, purifying air and soil, and even supporting the environment nearby. All around the world, food forests are planted and managed to contribute to food security with their availability, food potential and stability.

Future Solutions of Sustainable Forestry for Food Security and Nutrition

Forests play a crucial role in the cycle of ecosystems, biodiversity and the availability of edible materials, which is the reason why more and more organizations and governments are now working to keep forests healthy. However, only focusing on the current trends is not enough to maintain the sustainable use of forests as a way to improve food security. People should also take an eye on future solutions to provide a better and more stable mechanism for sustainable forestry practices.

In fact, in today's society, awareness of forests is still limited and most people do not recognize the contribution of forests to our ecosystem and food. As such, governments and local communities do not focus on forest conservation. Take the policy implemented in Nepal, which divides the land into two types: forest and agriculture. The government restricts activities in the forest. Back in the year 2000, Nepal recognized the importance of forests in sustaining human availability, arguing that increased forest yields could effectively help the problems of  poverty[29].The country’s policy is also an example of redefining “forests” and emphasizing the importance of forest resources in improving food security. If more countries implement such policies in the future, it is important to educate citizens about the importance of forests and their effectiveness in providing more food to impoverished communities, controlling the deforestation caused by agriculture, and establishing reasonable laws and regulations to limit the damage to forests in order to preserve the forest resources. Essentially, forests should be treated sustainably like agriculture.

Moreover, protecting the forest ecosystem means providing more species for humans to use as food. In the Tshopo Province, after political unrest and war, the market for villagers' crops has been greatly reduced, and without good land for cultivation, some families are hunting as a large part of their income, or using animal meat (also known as bushmeat) as food to fill their stomachs[30] Protecting the forests will not only help improve the ecosystem and produce food, but also provide a good habitat for wildlife, increase biodiversity and potentially improve the living environment and food supply for populations living in forest communities.

In 2050, the population of the planet is expected to rise from 7 billion to 9 billion, and this rise in population means that many forests will be converted to agriculture. For example, "a 100 to 110 percent increase in global crop demand from 2005 to 2050 would result in the conversion of about 1 billion hectares (2.5 billion acres) of land for agricultural use and is projected to encroach upon forested or heavily treed land."(PANS, 2011)[20] Although this is only a hypothesis, it materially reflects that the focus for food is on being able to feed people, rather than maintaining a balance between ecology and food security. There is an interaction between forests and food. When there is enough forest, it indirectly ensures food security and human health.

Forests provide habitat for insects that help pollinate plants. Flowering plants produce both female and male species. Female plants grow flowers, while male plants provide pollen, and since plants cannot move during pollination, they need insects to help them, without which they would not produce food. "More than 75 percent of the world's food crops depend, to some extent, on Pollination."(FAO, 2018) [31] A large number of pollinating insects use forests as their habitat, and if a lot of agriculturalization of land occurs in the future, insects like bees and butterflies will become unadapted to their environment due to the reduction of habitat, and the artificial use of pesticides on farms will affect pollinator populations. Vertebrate pollinators such as bats, for example, are now on the verge of extinction. So I hope that in the future we can go to agricultural transformation taking into account the lives of other species. It's also important to maintain a balance between these natural areas of the forest and human areas, and not just focus on the benefits that humans can get.


A forest is an ecosystem that consists of large numbers of trees. These trees assist in regulating climate, cycling of energy, and providing ecosystem services like food and wood. The world's food security relies on these factors. Agricultural, livestock, soil preservation, and pollination are all supported by forest ecosystem services. These ecosystem services offer habitat for animals and promote other species' life cycles that supply food for humans.

Due to the pressure of the increasing population and the COVID-19 pandemic, maximizing the contribution of forest ecosystem services to the world food security and making the food source sustainable has become a big issue for the world. FAO's work on forests for food security and nutrition includes Global and regional decision-making, statistics collection and analysis, and legislative and practical application support at the national level. Countries worldwide organize and promote policy procedures linked to forestry and food security globally (e.g. the Committee on Forestry and the Committee on World Food Security and Nutrition). Sustainability is the one keystone in all of these plans and strategies. We need solutions that can change the quality of human life for now and sustainably secure our life in the future.

Future ideas should consider creating a more effective and reliable system for sustainable forestry practices. Forests, like farmland, should be managed sustainably, just as food production is. The world's population is expected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050, implying that many forests would be turned into farmland. The interaction between sustainable use of forest and conservation of natural resources is a worthing debate.


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Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
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