It is only in recent years that the role of forestry in food security has been receiving attention as a result of the increasing realization of the dependence of rural people on trees and forests to meet important needs like food or income. As part of the Community Forestry Programme of FAO's Forestry Department a number of studies were commissioned in order to uncover existing information and to provide the basis for an objective understanding of the linkages between forestry and the food security of rural people, particularly the poor and other vulnerable groups such as women.
This report has been prepared as a component of the overall study by the Oxford Forestry Institute to review socio-economic aspects of the role of forestry in food production and food security, with special reference to those related to quality of life.
In order to define the coverage more fully, and to identify sources of information and ongoing work related to the subject, a meeting was held at the Oxford Forestry Institute attended by researchers from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, the Centre for Agricultural Strategy at the University of Reading, the School of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia, the Food Policy Studies Group at the University of Oxford, the Overseas Development Institute, and the Panos Institute. Following this meeting, and preliminary review of available material, drafts were prepared covering most aspects of the subject. These were reviewed, together with the draft and outline material from the other institutions contributing to the overall study, at a preparatory meeting convened by FAO in Rome in May 1987. At that meeting the coverage of the study was further refined. The report in its present form follows the decisions taken at that meeting. Consequently, it contains three distinct chapters focusing on very different aspects of forestry and food security.
The contribution of those who helped define the content of the study and sources of material, and who commented on drafts as the work progressed is gratefully acknowledged. In addition to those taking part in the meeting in Rome and involved in backstopping by the Forestry Department and Nutrition Division at FAO, these included G. Barnard, S. Devereux, P.M. Blaikie, R. Longhurst, J. McClintock, R. Plumtree, C. 0xby, G. Shepherd and J.J. Tarrant. The report was written by J. Falconer and J.E.M. Arnold.
It is hoped that the new understanding arising from the information and analysis presented in this report will be of help to all those concerned with realizing the potential of forests and trees to help meet the need for food security of the most vulnerable groups among rural people. The implications of this new knowledge are many for forest policies, strategies and plans which as a result should work more effectively on a strengthened socio-economic basis.
M.R. de Montalembert
Chief, Policy and Planning Service Forestry Department
For many foresters, household food security may seem to be a concern that goes far beyond the bounds of their profession. Yet, the problem of household food security is not simply one of agricultural output, but encompasses all factors affecting a household's access to an adequate year round supply of food. Thus, the problem of household food security is not simply one of next season's rice crop, but can also include factors as diverse as deforestation, seasonal variations in food supply, availability of fodder and other forest foods, shifts from subsistence to the cash economy, and even the timing of cash needs such as school fees. In many rural areas forests and farm trees play an important role in household food security. Forests and trees provide critical support to agricultural production, they provide food and fuel, and they provide cash income -- particularly for the poor, and they provide insurance against drought and crop failure. Thus, both directly and indirectly, many forestry activities have an impact on rural people's food situation.
The focus of this study is on the socio-economic aspects of
forestry's role in household food security. It draws together information on household foods and income which are actually derived from activities dependent on tree and forest products. It examines their importance in different situations and among different population groups and how the uses of these resources are changing, focusing particularly on the impacts on the poor and women. The study also addresses the consequences of decreasing forest resources and discusses the implications for forest policy and for management of forests and trees outside the forests.
In many regions, commercialisation is changing the ways in which people exploit their surrounding resources: in some cases new products have been introduced, replacing products formerly gathered from forests or manufactured with forest raw materials, in other instances the commercial value of forest products is leading to their over-exploitation, and in still other situations farmers are turning to tree growing for the market. Thus, the shift towards a cash economy has important implications for the ways in which forest and farm trees are and could be managed.
It should be noted at the outset that forests and trees contribute to many household needs in addition to food security, it is therefore difficult to separate the contribution forest and trees make to food security from other benefits they provide. Both forests and farm trees supply foods and other products which may be consumed, sold directly, or processed and then sold. In terms of household food security these products serve functions which can be summarized as follows: supplementing farm production, filling in seasonal shortfalls in food and income, and providing a buffer during hardship periods.
- forest and farm tree foods such as leaves and wild animals add diversity to the diet increasing palatibility and in some cases increasing overall quantities of food consumed;
- these foods provide essential nutrients contributing to the overall nutritional quality of the diet;
- forest and tree foods are often consumed as snacks contributing added energy and nutrients;
- forest and farm trees may supplement year-round fodder supplies, thereby helping to maintain milk and meat supplies;
- income earned from forest-based enterprises may supplement the household budget which may be of particular importance to poorer households who must supplement food production with cash in order to meet their basic food needs;
- this income may also be invested in agricultural assets such as livestock, land, or agricultural equipment;
- Finally, forests and farm trees provide the main source of fuel used by the majority of rural people for cooking and food processing.
- forests may provide food during the "hungry season" common in many seasonally dependent agricultural systems;
- forests also provide snack foods during the planting season when there is little time for cooking;
- in many regions farm trees and forests are important sources of dry season fodder;
- the integration of trees on farms helps insure a year round supply of foods;
- forest-based gathering and processing enterprises provide seasonal employment and sources of income;
- in some cases the income earned at these endeavors is linked to agricultural seasons, providing employment during the slack period, as well as cash for investment (e.g. seed purchase) in the following season.
- Forests provide a buffer food source during droughts and other emergency periods;
- these "famine foods" are different from those exploited in other periods, they are characteristically energy-rich, but may require complicated processing;
- the reliance on and knowledge of famine foods may be declining in some regions;
- gathering and processing of forest products provide an emergency means of cash earning during emergencies;
- farm trees provide insurance: providing an asset which can be liquidated during hard times, diversifying crop production as well as spreading harvest across the seasons.
There is a great deal of descriptive information available on the foods and produce people collect from forests and on the trees which grow on their farms. This information is generally concentrated in narrowly situation-specific accounts. However, there are few analytical studies which examine such things as the seasonality and frequency with which forest foods are used, the nutritional value they impart, the economics of forest based enterprises, trees in farming systems, or the linkages between forestry and household food security.
The collage of localised descriptive accounts illuminate the nature and patterns of use, but provide little on which to base an assessment of the magnitude and economic role of forest and tree products in household economies and diets. Much of what follows must, therefore, be taken as indicative rather than conclusive.
The information is presented in three distinct chapters which explore socio-economic aspects of forestry and household food security. The first chapter discusses the contribution forest and tree foods make to household diets as well as the benefits derived indirectly from other forest products such as fuelwood. The second describes income and employment gained in gathering and processing forest products and discusses their importance for rural households. The last chapter explores the role of trees in farm economies and the possible impact on household food security when trees are integrated onto farms.
Forest and farm tree use is evolving with the rapidly changing environment. The changing uses and values of these resources are crucial issues for forest policy and management. Yet it is an area where little information is available. The impacts of change on how people use forest and tree resources are discussed in each chapter. Though these discussions are based on limited information, some interesting patterns and implications for household food security emerge.
The following discussion highlights some common linkages between forestry and household food security which are discussed in greater detail in subsequent chapters. It draws out some of the patterns of changing forest and tree resource uses and considers the implications for forest management.
In many developing countries, people have historically had
relatively unrestricted access to forests. Poorer people have thus been able to exploit the forests for food, fuel and marketable products. While forest gathering activities are not restricted to the poor, they do depend on these activities to a great extent. Women often dominate forest gathering activities, both for household products and income. In addition, the low establishment costs of many forest-based small-scale enterprises tend to make them accessible to women and the poor. In some circumstances, the integration of trees into farming systems may be particularly attractive to poor farmers because of the low inputs required for their establishment and management.
Forest foods are often particularly important for poorer groups of rural people. They provide an available and accessible source of a diverse range of foods. Especially important are wild animals and fish as well as seasonally available fruit, leaves, nuts and mushrooms. In some cases the availability of forest foods may allow farmers to market a greater share of their agricultural produce.
The consumption of forest foods is generally dictated by the availability of resources. For example, in many regions the consumption of wild animals is limited by their supply: where they are prevalent, they are widely consumed.
In some societies, foods gathered from the forest are believed to be poor man's food. In these cases few people like to discuss the forest foods they might consume and purchased foods are substituted whenever possible. Thus in some regions the consumption of forest foods appears to be declining.
Forest based activities provide substantial employment opportunities in many rural regions. These forest based activities often require low establishment costs and are characterised by easy entry and open market access. Many are undertaken as part time activities to provide supplemental income. These activities are especially important for the poor as they may have access to fewer alternatives. The collection and processing of babassu palm fruit in northeastern Brazil, for example, provides a major source of income to millions of tenant farmers who have few opportunities for earning cash income. Similarly, in the Philippines one study revealed that the poorer farmers were most dependent on income earned from rattan collection and forestry labour; for these households it provides a major source of year-round income.
Income earned from forest-based activities is sometimes invested
in agricultural assets such as livestock or land. In this sense these forest resources offer the poor a means for investment in their future. Thus providing an opportunity to escape from the cycle of poverty.
While forest-based activities provide numerous opportunities for the rural poor, information presented in Chapter Three suggests that the earnings vary substantially from one activity to another. For example, a Tanzanian study revealed that returns to labour varied from well below the minimum rural wage rate for mat-making to two or three times this standard wage for carpentry. The returns to labour from many forest-based activities are marginal. In addition, markets for products may be quite vulnerable to introduced substitutes. Thus, while forest activities provide some means of income earning for a large number of rural poor, activities which are dominated by the poor and women often provide the lowest returns. Therefore, these enterprises may not be sustainable in the sense that they will be abandoned if other income earning possibilities arise or if substitutes cause a market collapse.
While it is sometimes assumed that women are mainly involved in subsistence activities, in fact they are extensively involved in many forest-based gathering and processing enterprises. Women often have little access to land and capital resources. Thus, forests provide a source of raw materials and products for cash sale. In addition, women often combine cash earning activities with forest based subsistence activities such as food and medicine collection. Many forest-based activities can be undertaken near the homestead, thus allowing women to combine these activities with domestic chores.
It has often been argued that cultivation of trees is something that is possible only for wealthy farmers. This assumption is based on the premise that poor farmers' main objective is production of staple foods. However, the evidence suggests that in many cases poor farmers' resources are too limited for them to meet their basic food needs, so that income generation becomes increasingly important.
In these circumstances trees may prove to be appropriate as cash crops or as intercrops with agricultural cash crops. In situations where land rather than labour is the limiting factor, joint tree/crop/livestock systems may give better returns than monocrops. Where availability of labour has become the constraint, because of the need to find work away from the farm, low input tree crops may provide the best way of keeping land in productive use. Although overall returns from the latter would be greater under agricultural crops than trees, poor farmers often raise trees because they cannot afford the capital and labour costs of agricultural production. Trees are also planted by the poor to help maintain the productivity of their land when the cost of alternatives such as fertilizer, herbicide, and irrigation are beyond their means.
As was noted earlier, trees provide a measure of insurance and can be harvested in times of emergency cash needs. For poor farmers who live at or below subsistence level, the reduction of risk may be an overriding objective. In addition, the income earned from tree crops may provide poor farmers the capital to invest in agricultural assets such as better land or livestock.
Change -- of physical, social and economic environments -- is a critical issue for all those working in development. Yet, it is perhaps the most difficult issue to address. The studies reviewed provide some insight into the changing uses of forests and farm trees. Chapter Four focuses on the changing role of trees in farming systems. It explores some of the circumstances where trees are increasingly (or decreasingly) integrated onto farms. Table 4.9: Farmer Responses to Changes in Resources provides an illustration of some of the interacting factors which determine the ways farmers use resources at their disposal, and most notably, the implications of these interactions for tree growing.
Rural people, especially the poor, employ a diversity of means to help meet basic needs: food crop production; forest product gathering, consumption, processing and sale; cash crop production and income earning enterprises both on and off the farm. The impact of changes in the physical, social and economic environments will affect people in different ways, depending on their available resources and opportunities.
The following section focuses on two aspects of change: the diminishing forest resource base and the implications of the growing importance of the cash economy in rural areas.
Throughout the developing world forest resources are rapidly
being degraded, logged, cleared for agriculture and cordoned off (either privately or by governments). In many regions, the result is that an ever-expanding rural population must rely on decreasing forest and land resources. In terms of household food security, this trend implies diminishing availability and use of forest food resources as well as diminishing knowledge about their utility, fewer income earning opportunities for the rural poor, and increased burdens on households in their efforts to meet their basic needs.
The role that forest foods play in household nutrition has changed with their diminishing availability, penetration of commercial markets and new products, and changing tastes. In many regions forest foods are no longer consumed, and knowledge about their use is vanishing, although this trend is not universal. In some areas forests still supply a readily available source of foods and fodder. In addition, commercialisation and rapid migration have led to expanded markets for some forest foods. In other instances they are sought after for their traditional social value, while in still other cases they are valued for their medicinal qualities. Throughout West Africa, for example, the urban bushmeat market has been expanding rapidly, causing prices to soar well above those of domesticated meats. Several of the studies discussed in Chapter Two indicate that the consumption of gathered foods is not declining, but even in these cases the diversity of gathered foods consumed may have decreased.
The impact of the declining consumption of forest foods is not clear. In some cases these changes have led to a poorer quality diet; most notably diets are becoming less diverse as people rely on purchased foods. Wild animal consumption provides a good example of the effects of forest decline on food consumption. In southern Nigeria, for example, where there are large forest reserves bushmeat accounts for the majority of meat consumed, but in other areas with poor forest conditions and no reserves, bushmeat is rarely consumed. In southern Cameroon, villagers relate that their food base has become less diverse, mentioning particularly the decline in wild animal meat consumption.
Perhaps the worst impact of the loss of forest foods is that poorer people's food options will be further reduced, especially during seasonal and emergency hardship periods.
As was noted earlier, fuelwood provides a major source of energy for cooking and food processing in rural communities. While few studies have examined the possible impacts of fuelwood scarcity on household nutrition, a few important relationships can be identified. Fuelwood supply may influence the amount of food supplied or cooked, and in some instances fewer meals are cooked. This trend may have a particularly damaging effect on child nutrition as children may be unable to consume enough of the oftenstarchy staple foods in one meal. Fuelwood shortages may also affect the quality of foods consumed as well as the quality and supply of processed foods. If women cook for less time, the consumption of uncooked and reheated foods may increase, which could cause a serious increase in disease incidence. In some areas the increasing prices of fuelwood have forced, the costs of processing foods such as smoked fish to increase, and these increases are in turn passed on to the consumer.
The increasing time needed for fuelwood collection may reduce the time available for cooking. In some areas the result may be that people consume more fast foods and purchased snack foods, often of lower nutritional quality. However it should be noted that many other factors are associated with changes in dietary customs which should not be attributed to fuelwood shortages alone. In addition, fuelwood shortages may indirectly affect household food security: as women are forced to spend longer time collecting fuelwood they have less time to spend on food production or income earning activities.
Over-exploitation of forest resources has resulted in a dwindling supply of raw materials for small enterprises and fewer income earning possibilities for the rural poor. For example, in many regions of Southeast Asia, rattan collection and processing is an important rural enterprise. However, over-exploitation and deforestation are leading to diminished supplies, lower quality materials, and reduced returns for the poor involved in its collection and trade. In addition, the poor's access to forest and other formerly "common" lands is often restricted by increasing privatisation. As a result they are gradually losing a source of income, as only richer gatherers are able to pay the fees to
use private lands.
The supply of raw materials for both wood and non-wood products
is likely to become an increasing problem for many small enterprises. Small enterprises are rarely able to create or conserve their own resources for future use on a sustained basis. This is an area where involvement of foresters could be most useful: both in terms of managing forests for these locally needed products and in redirecting forest policy and laws to incorporate the needs of small enterprises.
Another response to the declining availability of forest resources is the protection and incorporation of these resources into farming systems, both for home consumption and trade. Generally, trees are incorporated into these systems for a variety of products and overlapping motivations. Thus, while trees may be planted for marketable fruits or poles, these products and many others are also valued for consumption and use by the household. The intensification of management of farm and fallow lands for a combination of tree and annual plant products can be seen as a response to the changing availability of resources and opportunities for the farmer. In the following section farmers' motivations for integrating or clearing trees from their farms are discussed.
As the physical resources (both agricultural and forest lands) available to poor farmers decrease, farmers are forced to rely increasingly on the cash economy. In many cases diminishing size and productivity of farm holdings forces farmers to rely on off-farm cash earning opportunities and to plant low input cash crops on their farms.
In some cases farmers are increasing the value of production from farmland by processing higher value products such as coconut sugar, and producing more products from the same area such as fuelwood and charcoal, byproducts of land clearing. In a farming study in rural Sierra Leone many farmers noted that nonagricultural activities such as fuelwood collection, hunting, fishing, oil processing, craft production and palm wine tapping are of major importance for them, both in terms of their time and the benefits for the households.
As was noted earlier, as farm productivity decreases to a point where farmers must turn to earning cash income, trees may be grown as cash crops in order to take advantage of growing markets for forest products. For example, in Haiti, trees are being planted by farmers for the pole and fuelwood markets. Trees are often chosen over other cash crops as they tend to require low establishment costs, less labour, minimal annual costs, less water after establishment and thus lower susceptibility to drought. For poor farmers, the possibility of accumulating capital through tree growing may also be important.
The impact of the penetration of the cash economy on household food security is unclear. Results from some studies suggest that overall household nutrition conditions decline with increasing reliance on cash crops. Production for cash crops may lead to increasing food prices as land is transferred from food production. Reliance on cash crops makes households dependent on the vagaries of market prices-for these products: a drop in cash crop prices will mean a household has less with which to purchase foods. In situations where the shift from food to cash crop production entails a shift in control of household income from women to men, household nutrition may be affected as women are most closely involved with provision of the household's food. There are some studies which indicate that women are most concerned with subsistence needs, while others suggest that they are equally involved and interested in cash earning. Obviously these factors vary greatly, depending on the culture, economy, available opportunities for women, and household situation. Nonetheless, some nutrition studies indicate that where women have control of household income, overall family nutrition may improve.
In the case of tree growing the potentially negative aspects of cash crop production may be offset by other features of tree growing. As was discussed earlier, the transfer of land from food to tree crops is often in response to changing conditions which make food crop cultivation impracticable, such as increasingly scarce land and labour. Thus, the shifting emphasis from food to cash crops may be unavoidable. Most trees provide other products in addition to those for cash sale. In addition, tree crops provide a great deal of flexibility as they can be harvested when the farmer most needs them, i.e. for emergencies and to meet lump sum cash needs. For these reasons, they may be most appropriate for poor households.
Food security issues are especially important at a policy level and for those planning and managing forestry projects geared to improving the well-being of rural people. They underscore the complexity of the ever-changing rural world, especially for the poor in terms of their changing access to physical, capital and labour resources which must be juggled in order to survive.
Forestry's contribution to household food security must be viewed
in perspective. Forests and farm trees are components of complex rural environments. Forestry efforts alone cannot substantially alter fundamental social, economic and political factors at the root of many food supply inequalities. Nor would it be correct to conclude that the answer to declining availability of foods, income or employment from forest based sources necessarily lies in forest based interventions. Alternatives to forest foods, fuels and products exist or could be made available in nearly every situation.
However, forests and tree resources have played an important role in household food security, especially during seasonal and emergency hardship periods. Evidently, the management of forests and the planning of agroforestry activities could and should include consideration of these uses of forest and tree outputs much more widely than is the case at present.
In the chapters that follow, attention is drawn to certain measures which could adjust forest and tree management more closely to uses which contribute to household food security. However, this cannot be a static process, amenable to use of standard models and approaches. The importance of trees and tree products varies greatly from community to community and also between households within communities. Their uses and role within the household economy are changing as rural areas become increasingly commercialised, forest resources are progressively degraded, and farm productivity declines. Planners and managers, therefore, need to be aware of and responsive to these changes, and to the new opportunities as well as the growing demands which they are creating for forestry and agroforestry.