Chapter 1: Overview

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1.1 Introduction: The concept of food security
1.2 Putting forestry in perspective
1.3 The links between forestry and food security
1.4 Opportunities for action
1.5 Setting the policy framework: new goals and approaches

1.1 Introduction: The concept of food security

Food security is a fundamental problem facing the world today. Despite substantial increases in food production in many countries, over 800 million people still suffer from malnutrition. According to FAO figures, approximately 20 million people are dying of starvation or related diseases each year. It is estimated that by the year 2000 up to 70 countries, including 49 in Africa, will not be able to feed themselves unless urgent action is taken.

Food security has been defined by the Committee on World Food Security as the "economic and physical access to food, of all people, at all times." The concept recognises that the nutritional well-being of people depends not just on food production; if that were the case then no-one would go hungry, since total food production is more than enough to feed the world's population. Food security is also crucially dependent on the reliability of production and on people's access to supplies. It thereby encompasses questions both of sustainability and equity.

For many foresters the issue of food security may seem to be a concern which goes far beyond the domain of their profession. And yet, in many rural areas forests and farm trees provide critical support to agricultural production (e.g. maintaining and improving soil conditions, and maintaining hydrological systems), they provide food, fodder and fuel, and they provide a means of earning cash income. Thus, both directly and indirectly forestry activities may have an impact on people's food security.

Within the community of forestry professionals, food security has emerged in the last few years as a new focus for forestry development and planning. While it is recognized that forests contribute to food security in many ways, these links have seldom been studied in depth and there have been few attempts to assess their significance. At the policy and planning level, very little has been done to incorporate food security as a specific objective in forestry strategies and programmes.

This report is the result of an Expert Consultation on forestry and food security sponsored by the FAO Forestry Department (held in India in 1988). It illuminates some of the links between forestry and food security, and shows how forestry activities can and do have an impact on food security. In this report forestry is defined in a broad sense to include management and use of trees and shrubs on farms and grazing areas, as well as within established forest reserves. Drawing on many different sources, it pieces together a picture of the complex interactions between people, trees, forests, agriculture and food production. It looks at negative as well as positive effects of forestry activities, and it aims to distinguish links between forestry and food security that are well proven from those that are still speculative or disputed. Going beyond this, the report also sets out some initial ideas about how forestry policies and programmes can be directed to improving food security, especially for the poor.

The picture this report presents is in no way complete; there are important information gaps and many of the examples come from isolated reports that may not be representative. The conclusions reached should therefore be treated as preliminary. They do, however, provide a basis for further investigation, and are intended as a stimulus for the more detailed consideration of individual cases.


1.2 Putting forestry in perspective

The part played by forestry in food security must be kept in perspective. Forests are just one element within the complex fabric of rural life, and food security depends on a whole range of factors quite apart from forests and forestry activities.

It is clearly wrong, for example, to suggest that forestry can replace agriculture as a food production system to any significant extent. It must also be recognized that forestry initiatives, by themselves, cannot remove the underlying pressures caused by population growth. Neither can they fundamentally alter the social, economic and political factors that create inequalities, and separate the rich from the poor; the hungry from the well-fed.

The premise of this report, however, is that forests and trees do have an important role to play in food security. It is a role that has been ignored in the past, and is currently being eroded as forests in many parts of the world are cleared and the remaining trees on farmland come under increasing pressure. These trends are undermining existing agricultural systems and jeopardising their long-term productivity.

But these trends are not irreversible. Through better management of forests, and by supporting tree growing on farms, the contribution of forestry to food security can be both strengthened and enhanced. Forestry initiatives have the potential for providing a range of benefits - augmenting food production, increasing the sustainability of food supplies, and improving access to food for the landless and poor by providing subsistence products, income and employment.

Putting forestry in perspective


1.3 The links between forestry and food security

1.3.1 Environmental links
1.3.2 Production links
1.3.3 Socio-economic links

Figure 1.1 highlights some of the important links between forestry and food security and suggests some of the ways forest products and environmental benefits, as well as forestry activities, can have an impact on household food security and individual nutritional well-being. The boxes on the far left represent forest products and benefits on which forestry projects often focus (e.g. shelterbelts and fuelwood production). Moving to the right, the linkages between forestry outputs and household food status are illustrated.

It is clear that many links between forestry and food security are inter-related. To simplify the discussion, however, they can be divided into three main groups: environmental, production, and socio-economic factors.

1.3.1 Environmental links

Trees and forests influence both their immediate surroundings and the stability of the larger environment, and as a result have several important links to food security. Both at the micro and the macro-level, they help provide the stable environmental conditions on which sustainable food production depends. For many communities in tropical regions forests provide the only means for restoring soil productivity (through systems of forest fallowing). Forest areas also represent the single largest storehouse of genetic diversity, a resource of great importance to future agricultural production.

The effects of trees are most easily seen at the farm level, where they can play an important role in improving the microclimate, reducing the damage caused by wind, protecting against soil erosion, and restoring soil productivity. At the watershed level, forests can reduce sedimentation and improve water quality; they may also have an effect on water availability downstream, and may assist to some extent in reducing the incidence of floods. All of these factors have a major influence on downstream agriculture. At a regional and global level, forests may also affect climate and rainfall patterns - although the detailed interactions are controversial and still only partly understood.

1.3.2 Production links

The most direct connection between forestry and food security is the food items produced by trees. Fruits, nuts, leaves, roots and gums are just some of the huge array of edible foods that are obtained from trees and shrubs, either growing naturally in the wild or cultivated on farms and around the home. Forests also provide a habitat for many animals, birds, insects and other forms of wildlife that are hunted and consumed, often as delicacies. While these forest foods rarely provide staples, they do provide important supplements as well as seasonal and emergency substitutes when food supplies dwindle.

Figure 1.1 The links between forestry and household food security

In addition, forests can have an important indirect influence on food production. By maintaining and improving soil fertility, trees grown on farms can help sustain crop yields. In pastoral production systems, trees and shrubs provide an essential source of livestock fodder, especially during the dry season. And in mangrove areas, the forests are a habitat and breeding ground for many fish, crustacea and other marine animals that support coastal and off-shore fisheries.

1.3.3 Socio-economic links

Food security is fundamentally a social issue. The socioeconomic links between forestry and food security are those that link the products and "services" of forests to the people who depend on them. From the point of view of individual households, forests may affect their food security in several ways. Foods obtained from trees and forests make an important direct contribution to family diets, providing a tasty and nutritious supplement to otherwise bland staple foods. Although the quantities involved may be small, their nutritional contribution is often critical, especially at certain times of the year, and during droughts or other emergency periods when cultivated foods are unavailable.

Even more important for many families is the fact that forests provide a source of income and employment. Millions of rural people depend on money earned from gathering, processing and selling forest products to buy food and other basic necessities. For the poor, and also for women, these are often one of their only sources of cash income. Trees grown on the farm are also used as savings, that can be harvested and sold to meet large or emergency cash needs.


1.4 Opportunities for action

There is much that can be done by foresters to enhance household food security. Some of the most obvious opportunities for action include:

* directing forest management objectives to people's food security needs;

* broadening the range of products produced by forests food and other items - and improving their supply to local people through new management approaches and access arrangements;

* encouraging tree growing on farms using species and management approaches that complement crop and livestock production, help protect the environment, provide income to farmers, and assist them to spread risks;

* supporting small-scale forest-based enterprises by ensuring a sustainable supply of input materials, providing managerial and technological assistance, and improving access to credit;

* providing market support to help rural people get a better price for the forest products they sell, and secure a more sustainable livelihood.

While a number of promising approaches of this kind can be identified, experience in putting them into practice is still limited. Local circumstances will inevitably play a big part in determining their relevance and a great deal will depend on local people's needs, available resources and careful planning.


1.5 Setting the policy framework new goals and approaches

Forests and farm trees contribute to food security in many rural regions throughout the world. In order to strengthen and develop these contributions, forestry programmes and foresters need to review the goals and devise new approaches for their activities. Existing institutional structures, and the traditional focus of forestry training, research and extension work, are not at all well matched to the task of addressing food security objectives.

Support at the policy level is a prerequisite for change. This means reorganising the specific role of existing forests and of trees in the food security of rural people and their effectiveness in sustaining land-use and food production systems. It will also require support for staff, resources and training. Addressing problems of food security will require a shift in emphasis away from traditional goals of production and protection forestry to gearing forestry activities to meet local people's needs.

It could mean, for example, upgrading of the status of so-called 'minor forest products' to recognise the extremely important contribution they already make to local incomes and livelihoods, and to exploit the potential for enhancing their production and use. It will involve exploring new approaches to forest management which address issues of access and control of forest resources and which acknowledge the rights of local people to benefit from the forests.

Clearly this will involve putting a lot more effort into understanding local circumstances, and the problems - food security being just one of them - that people face, especially those who are poor. To this end forestry planners will need to build from the considerable traditional knowledge of forest resources that exists in many communities and on methods of managing their local environment.

New types of training will be required for forestry professionals and extension workers to broaden their outlook, and provide them with the skills needed to work more closely with local people. There is a need to bring in other professionals such as nutritionists and social-scientists. Special emphasis must be placed on incorporating the needs and perspectives of women in the planning and implementation of projects.

Much can be gained if forestry services can collaborate more effectively with agriculture departments, and agencies involved in fisheries, livestock and other related professions. Food security crosses over conventional sectoral boundaries and can only be tackled effectively through cooperative endeavours.

More fundamentally, the social, economic and political factors that create and maintain inequalities, and lie behind poverty and hunger, must be recognized. Forestry initiatives cannot change these realities. Even so, there is much that can be done to channel benefits towards poor and disadvantaged groups, provided their needs are properly identified and the necessary commitment exists.

There are many challenges to be faced if forestry is to contribute more effectively to food security. However, there are solid grounds for optimism: forestry philosophy and practice have changed radically over the last two decades, moving away from a narrow traditional view to broader and more people-oriented goals. Incorporating food security concerns can be seen as the logical next step in making forestry more responsive to people's needs, and more relevant to the development process.

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