Sustainable management of forests and agriculture: a guarantee of food security


This summer, the UN published a report on the state of forests around the world and their crucial role in the development of global food security. The study refutes the idea that ever more land will be needed to feed our planet’s growing population and recommends participatory forest management. In particular, it focuses on countries that have intensified their agricultural production over the last 10 years, while increasing forest areas, including Chile, Costa Rica, and Tunisia, which has incorporated forest expansion into its development strategy.


Deforestation is on the rise

In the space of 15 years, global forest resources have fallen by 319 million acres. Although this rate has slowed since the 1990s, more than 8 million acres of forests are disappearing each year, due to expanding cities and farming areas. Commercial agriculture is responsible for a third of forest loss in Africa, and 70% in Latin America. Mining industries and local subsistence farming also weigh heavily on these fragile ecosystems, which are home to over 75% of the earth’s biodiversity.

Food security: impossible without forest protection

Regarding the challenges of climate change, we have been given a clear message by FAO2 Director-General José Graziano da Silva: “We can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately.” Forests should be seen as ecological assets and incorporated as such into sustainable agriculture strategies to guarantee the resilience of our ecosystems. He also emphasized the benefits of trees and plants for farming, particularly their ability to slow erosion, retain water in the soil, provide shade and protect pollinators – not to mention their role as carbon traps.

« It is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food. » – J.G. da Silva

The FAO first addressed public authorities, encouraging them to invest in development programs involving private investment, and in agroforestry research and innovation, in order to intensify production without creating more farmland. It also emphasized the need to protect land law and make changes in legislation, in order to keep up with land trading and conversion – because, at present, most land conversion is illegal, “either in violation of laws related to the issuance of licences or in the way the conversion is carried out.” Lastly, the FAO recommends better-coordinated programs, and that “the institutional framework should encompass local communities, civil-society organizations and responsible private-sector interests, as well as government departments and agencies.”

Solutions for participatory forest management

The report presents examples of some 10 countries that have succeeded in improving their farming productivity while putting an end to, or even reversing, deforestation. For example, in Ghana, a newly-introduced reform gives farmers ownership rights over the trees they plant. An initial participatory management system is being set up to encourage the development of forests, while enabling local communities and small-scale farmers to make the most of forest holdings. Along the same lines, Gambia has increased its forest cover by 10%, by transferring the management of some of its forest reserves to local communities. The aim is to eventually restore 75% of forest land to the communities. Between 2008 and 2015, the country used the State’s public development aid to increase the use of its arable land and reduce the proportion of its starving population by 6%. In Chile, the work carried out by farmers on yields and the choice of plant species has reduced pressure, in terms of converting forests into crops. At the same time, the sustainable development of primary forests in Costa Rica has boosted the country’s eco-tourism sector.

Greater accountability for private companies

For several years now, more and more private companies have voluntarily decided to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. These initiatives include the certification systems of the Round Table for Responsible Soy3, certification of coffee plantations by the Rainforest Alliance, and major zero-deforestation cattle agreements signed in Brazil. Around the world, millions of people depend on forests for a living. While the expansion of farming areas is continuing at the expense of tree conservation, the FAO hopes that these positive success stories will catch on in other places.
Among the interesting initiatives carried out in North Africa, the Green Tunisia Pact, launched by the General Directorate of Forestry, is a partnership program enabling companies that want to invest in sustainable agriculture projects to contribute to the country’s forest development. The pact supports reforestation activities and the protection of water resources, and helps farmers incorporate forest development into their farming strategies.
And so, to quote José Graziano da Silva, “Forests and agriculture have an enormous role in achieving the 2030 Agenda’s commitment to rid the world of the twin scourge of poverty and hunger.”

Read the report:

1 FAO. State of the World’s Forests 2016. Forests and agriculture: land use challenges and opportunities. Rome. Based on the 2014 “Forest Trends” study.
2 The FAO is a United Nations organization that helps countries develop their food and agriculture development programs.
3 The Round Table for Responsible Soy is an international project bringing together soy producers, traders and processers, in collaboration with banking institutions and social bodies, to promote the sustainable cultivation of soy around the world.

Photo crédits : Pixabay