A new report underlines the crucial role that forests play in food security and poverty reduction with one billion people worldwide dependent on forests and trees for balanced diets and sustainable incomes.

We know that forests already play a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change. This report makes it very clear that they also play a key role in alleviating hunger and improving nutrition

Christoph Wildburger, International Union of Forest Research Organizations

About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger, but the world’s forests have great potential to improve their nutrition and ensure their livelihoods. In fact, forests and forestry are essential to achieving food security as the limits of boosting agricultural production become increasingly clear.

That’s according to the most comprehensive scientific analysis to date of the relationship between forests, food and nutrition, released today in New York at a side event of the United Nations Forum on Forests.

The new report, compiled by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations’ (IUFRO) Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, underlines the vital role that forests play in food security, as well as the need for the most vulnerable groups of society to have secure access to forest foods.

More than 60 renowned scientists from around the world collaborated on the peer‐reviewed publication “Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition: A Global Assessment Report”, which was led by Dr Bhaskar Vira of Cambridge University’s Department of Geography and Fitzwilliam College.

“Forest foods often provide a safety net during periods of food shortages,” says Vira. “In the study, we reveal impressive examples which show how forests and trees can complement agricultural production and contribute to the income of local people, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world.”

Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary‐General for Policy of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, added: “this report reminds us of the vital role of forests in building food security. It makes a convincing case for multi‐functional and integrated landscape approaches and calls for community level engagement to reimagine forestry and agriculture systems.”

According to the report, close to one in six people directly depend on forests for their food and income. In the Sahel region, for example, trees contribute 80% on average to household incomes, especially through shea nut production. The report also documents efforts currently underway in Africa and elsewhere to develop new tree commodities to supply the poor with sustainable incomes.

“What keeps people hungry is often not the lack of food, but the lack of access to that food and control over its production. We need to recognise claims over food sovereignty which give local people greater control over their food,” notes Vira. “Improved tenure rights and stronger rights for women who are becoming more and more responsible for food production from agricultural and forest lands are key to ensure the success of sustainable poverty reduction efforts.”

The report emphasises that forests play an essential role in complementing crops produced on farms, which is especially important when a community’s staple food supply is impaired by droughts, volatile prices, armed conflicts, or other crises.

“Large‐scale crop production is highly vulnerable to extreme weather events, which may occur more frequently under climate change. Science shows that tree‐based farming can adapt far better to such calamities.” says Christoph Wildburger, the coordinator of IUFRO’s Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) initiative. “We know that forests already play a key role in mitigating the effects of climate change. This report makes it very clear that they also play a key role in alleviating hunger and improving nutrition.”

The study comes in the lead up to the United Nations’ finalisation of their Sustainable Development Goals, designed to address poverty and hunger, among other global challenges. The report also provides useful insight into how the UN can respond to the “Zero Hunger Challenge,” which aims to eliminate global hunger by 2025. It was coordinated by IUFRO on behalf of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF).

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) is the only world‐wide organisation devoted to forest research and related sciences. Its members are research institutions, universities, and individual scientists as well as decision‐making authorities and other stakeholders with a focus on forests and trees.

The IUFRO‐led Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) established the Expert Panel on “Forests and Food Security” with the aim to provide a comprehensive global assessment of scientific information on the relationship of forests and trees on the one hand, and food security and nutrition on the other hand, and to prepare a report to inform relevant policy decision‐makers.

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