Forests Can Feed Billions, but Only If They’re Left Standing


Researchers find that making woodlands part of the food supply will help alleviate hunger worldwide.


Growing more food for the globe’s rising population is the major driver of deforestation. But a new report, endorsed by dozens of forest scientists, has found that leaving those trees standing would do much more to curb hunger than would converting them to cropland or pastures.

Leaving those trees standing would do much more to curb hunger than would converting them to cropland or pastures

More than 1 billion people worldwide already depend on forests for food and crucial nutrients, according to the report, which was published Wednesday by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations.

For communities in Machakos County in eastern Kenya, the report stated, forest tree fruits such as pawpaws, mangoes, and loquats are major sources of vitamin A, and guava is a source of vitamin C.

The wild animals, fish, and insects in forests are also important sources of protein, iron, and fats. In the Rio Negro area of Brazil’s Amazon, the report noted, communities obtained 70 percent of their protein from fish caught in flooded forests and rivers.

Healthy forests also help communities withstand changing climate conditions, civil unrest, and shifting food prices, according to the researchers.

Although tree crops such as rubber, palm oil, and coffee are worth tens of billions of dollars a year in international trade, the report warned that razing natural forests and replacing them with tree crop plantations does not help reduce hunger. Instead, tree crop plantations increase food insecurity by wiping out local sources of food and eradicating agricultural as well as natural biodiversity.

There is little evidence for the “land sparing” argument that such plantations save forests by producing their crops more efficiently, the report noted. But there is a great deal of evidence that “land sharing,” or managing the land for multiple uses and biodiversity, can increase the supply of forest foods and support animal species that are important to agriculture, such as the birds, bats, and bees that pollinate crops.


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Photos Olga Dalinenko © Shutterstock


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