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Maximizing the contribution that forests and trees make to local food security is no easy task. Experience shows that forestry projects that succeed in improving food security are based on the cooperation of forestry departments and local people. Before similar projects can be introduced on a wider scale, governments and forestry institutions will have to change their approach to the management of national forests. Forestry policies and legislation will need to be adapted to include a new goal -improving food security for local people and forestry institutions will need to embrace new and unfamiliar objectives. Forestry staff will have to learn to work with local people to assess the conditions and needs of their communities, design projects to meet their requirements, and facilitate communication between local communities and their governments. In addition, more research will need to be done into almost every aspect of the relationship between forests, trees, rural communities and food security.


To achieve these new aims, governments will have to adapt existing forest policies and legislation. National forest policies-a general overview of a government's approach to forest management-cover production objectives and environmental and developmental goals. The aim of these policies is often to maximize revenues and foreign exchange from wood and timber, and ensure supplies of raw materials to large forest-based industries. To achieve these aims, legislation has been passed in many countries giving governments and private companies exclusive use of forest land and timber reserves.

If the food security of people living in or near forest areas is to be increased, forestry management policies must be redesigned to accommodate national, industrial and local forest resource needs.

This requires that:

Five particularly important changes in forest policy and legislation will help increase food security.

Forest policy should include the production of non-timber forest products. In many countries forest policy prevents or discourages people from using forest lands to produce non-timber products. The people affected are typically local inhabitants operating small-scale enterprises to produce food and locally-valued items that can be sold for cash. The priority development of such products through national forest policies would he of great benefit to local people.

Local agroforestry schemes could be developed within national forests to allow for the production of bushmeat, rattan, bamboo, fuelwood, traditional medicines, fruits, honey and other forest foods. This would be achieved by setting aside areas in the forest for wildlife habitats or for growing locally-valued crops, or by growing such crops between rows of trees in government plantations.

Restrictions on forest access for local people should be lifted.

Better access to forests is essential if local people are to be able to participate in and benefit from the cultivation of food crops and locally-valued products on forest lands.

In any project to develop non-timber products, the expertise of local people and their experience of growing and harvesting these products is vital to the forest authorities and can be used to pave the way for local participation in forest management, or cooperative management by local people and forest authorities.

Rights of ownership or stewardship of forest land should be transferred to local individuals or communities.

Food security needs are often best met if forest land for agriculture or the cultivation of locally-valued products is transferred from the forest authority to local individual or collective control. Local management can respond more quickly to changing needs and circumstances, and local people are more likely to invest their time and resources on land if they have secure tenure (see box page 24).

Legislation should be modified to support small-scale income-generating activities based on the forest.

Many people depend on gathering and processing tree and forest products for income. Forest policies and government legislation in support of these activities could make them more profitable and sustainable, thus improving the livelihood and food security of the people concerned. The people who would benefit most would be those who depend most on these activities-typically the landless and other disadvantaged groups.

In the short term, government subsidies on raw materials and other forms of financial support to forest-based industries are an option, though longer-term solutions should be promoted simultaneously to ensure economic stability for such enterprises.

Suitable government action to support small-scale forest industries would include:

Forest policies that encourage the non-sustainable use of forest lands should be eliminated and sustainable land-use practices encouraged.

Practices such as non-sustainable timber harvesting and inappropriate forms of agriculture have led to serious degradation of forest lands and have had disastrous effects on local food security. Long-term, sustainable land use and forestry practices need to replace those that bring only short-term results. This requires that governments:

Forestry policies based on these principles should be integrated with government policies on agriculture, livestock, industry, development and the environment so that all sectors complement rather than compete with one another for resources.


Forestry institutions will also have to change if they are to put the new forestry policies into effect. They will have to take a wider view of the role of forest management, become more aware of the effects of forestry policies on the food security of local people, and cooperate with non-forestry sectors such as education, health and nutrition in the research and implementation of food security projects.

Forestry staff will need to take on a new role as intermediary between the government and local people, to educate and inform forest users of the most appropriate use of forest lands, and to work with local people to devise and implement agroforestry projects.


All aspects of the links between forestry and food security require research. Of primary importance is research on how foresters can integrate food security objectives into their activities by developing forest products for food and income, improving existing agricultural techniques for growing non-timber products, examining marketing options for non-timber forest products and minimizing any negative impacts of national forestry policy on small-scale forest enterprises.

All research should be firmly grounded in local circumstances and needs. A better understanding of how local people use and manage forests is the basis of present and future research. Local knowledge of forest ecology is invaluable to researchers, but investigation into this is urgent because local knowledge is disappearing as forest resources diminish and traditional practices die out.

Researchers need to broaden their methods, and undertake interdisciplinary studies covering biological and socio-economic aspects of forest management and food production. Research into the following subjects is being given priority:


The challenge for forestry project workers is to devise programmes that are relevant to each individual community, and provide local people with an opportunity to increase their incomes and improve their food security. Programmes based on traditional and new forms of agroforestry on farm and forest land are some of the most promising. Trees can provide food, animal fodder and income, improve conditions for growing food and cash crops, and enhance livestock productivity.

Projects need to be developed and tested under the local conditions on which their success depends. This means identifying, at the planning stage: the nature of existing land ownership arrangements; customs relating to the growth and use of trees; the nature of the community's food shortage problem; and the people the project is intended to benefit.

The complexities of ownership and tenure of land and trees determine who can reap the benefits of tree cultivation. They are therefore of vital importance at the project planning stage. Common property systems under which families or communities own areas of land, including substantial forest areas, are found in many parts of the world, particularly Africa. Many of the poorest members of society may, in fact, own no land themselves and therefore be totally reliant on communal lands for food and income. In the past, this has been an effective way of managing land, but population growth is now putting a strain on communal lands. Agroforestry programmes which improve such traditional arrangements have been far more effective in increasing food security than programmes which are based on externally-imposed property systems.

Land ownership arrangements are less oriented towards the community and the poor in Latin America and Asia, for instance, where land ownership tends to be concentrated amongst a small percentage of the population. Most small farmers rent their lands or practice shifting cultivation within the forests. Population pressure has led both to much wider dependency on forest lands and products, and to the clearance of forest lands for agriculture. Possible solutions include increasing security of tenure for people farming forest lands and helping them to use their land more intensively. Some Asian governments have begun to issue long-term leases of forest lands to local people and to cooperate with them in developing agroforestry schemes to increase food security.

The Philippines: communal forest management

Under the Philippines' Integrated Social Forestry programme, 25-year stewardship contracts (renewable for another 25 years) are issued to individuals, communities or associations by the government's Forest Management Bureau (FMB). By 1988, nine leases had been issued to forest-based communities.

One of these communities is an indigenous group-the Ikalahans-which was granted a communal forest lease for an area of public forest corresponding to their ancestral lands. The Ikalahans were given exclusive rights to the area, and in return the Ikalahans agreed to protect the forest from fires and not to sublet any of the area.

Although the Iklahans' land is leased by the community, it is divided up into family farms. It also has a communal pasture area for cattle grazing, a communal orchard, a wildlife reserve, a reforestation/watershed development area and virgin forest.

The community decided to implement a farm improvement scheme under which all farmers were required to submit and carry out plans for improvements on their farm. Forestry personnel were invited to advise in drawing up these plans and penalties were imposed on any farmers who failed to implement their proposed improvements.

The communal forest lease provides security of tenure both to the community and individual farmers. Continued cooperation between the community and the FMB resulted in improved farm and land management techniques and the integration of environmental concerns into the management of the communal forest area.


Successful schemes of this type have been carried out in the Philippines and Java (see boxes), and Thailand. In Thailand, people traditionally reliant on shifting cultivation systems are employed by the forest department to establish plantations, and may plant and harvest crops between the trees. Each family is also given several hectares of land to farm for themselves. No land title is issued, but permits that entitle the holder to use the land can be inherited, though not sold.

Land ownership is not the only issue affecting food security, however. In many countries, land ownership rights do not necessarily also confer ownership of the trees that grow on the land. Large trees in Kenya, for example, are often regarded as the property of extended kinship groups, even though they may be situated on what is essentially privatelyheld land. Planting or owning trees in other areas, such as West Africa, however, does confer ownership of the land and, for that reason, farmers are often prohibited from planting trees on the rented lands they farm.

In some societies, the right to exploit tree products, whether on farm or forest lands, is not associated with ownership of trees. In the Dominican Republic and Honduras, the ownership of all trees, including those planted on farm land, is vested in the State. Farmers may be prevented from cutting trees on their land and thus discouraged from planting them.

Even in areas where local people have rights of tenure or of access to forest lands, they may have the right to gather only certain products. Traditionally, medicines and foods can often be gathered, while cutting trees may be prohibited.

If food security programmes are to be successful, an understanding of nutrition is also essential so that local deficiencies in diet can be identified. Each community needs to be studied individually because dietary problems can range from specific vitamin deficiencies to general undernourishment due to seasonal shortfalls in any or all types of food.

Java: improving traditional agroforestry systems

In Java, small farmers have for many years been entitled to grow rice and corn between trees in state plantations in exchange for site preparation, planting and tending of young trees. Increasing pressure on farm and forest lands has led the Indonesian State Forest Corporation (SFC) to devise a social forestry programme. The aims of the programme are to: prevent the uncontrolled clearance of forest land for agriculture; improve and intensify traditional agricultural techniques; implement these techniques at the village level through cooperation between SFC and small farmers; and establish the two parties in an equal, legal partnership.

To enable farmers to use forest lands more intensively, the government is changing its forest policy and silviculture techniques. Trees are being more widely spaced to provide additional land or armers and to allow them longer cultivation periods before the canopy closes above the crops. A larger range of crops may be grown, including cash crops, fodder, medicinal plants, and fuelwood and fruit trees. Farmers receive subsidized fertilizers and seeds from SFC and funds for land rehabilitation and conservation. Cultivation periods are formalized through long-term contracts between SFC and farmers which can be extended to the end of the tree rotation period. In addition, SFC helps forest farmer groups market their products and ensure a better price for their yield.

Farmers benefit from the programme because their crop yield is higher and more varied and this, in turn, reduces rural unemployment and poverty, and protects forest land from over-exploitation.



Though unequal land ownership, population growth and other issues may be at the root of food shortages, governments and forestry institutions can take steps to improve the food security of small farmers and rural communities. National forest policies and forestry institutions can be adapted to take into account the need of local people to use forest lands for farming and gathering forest products, and to help them increase production of food and cash crops on forest lands and farms through sustainable agroforestry programmes.

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