On the 13th to 15th May 2013 the FAO hosted an International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition which aimed to increase understanding of the role that forests, trees and agroforestry systems can play in improving the food security and nutrition of rural people. 1985 was designated the year of forests and food security but since then it has disappeared off the international agenda.
Forests, trees and agroforestry are often forgotten in national food security strategies and yet 1.6 billion people rely on forests and other natural systems for food and their livelihoods. Forests and trees are important in a number of ways:
- They provide affordable sources of food, nutrients, fibre and fuelwood as well as sources of income
- They help deliver clean water to agricultural lands by protecting catchments
- Herders in arid and semi-arid lands depend on trees as a source of fodder for their livestock
- Agroforestry can improve productivity, resilience and is a climate-smart agricultural practice.
In order to fully realise the potential of forests in tackling food insecurity, issues of land tenure, access and sustainable extraction need further investigation and policy agencies of agriculture, environment, health, development, nutrition, conservation, land-use planning and forestry require greater integration. Background papers to the conference discuss the role of trees in the livelihoods of the poor and the enabling political environments needed to increase the contribution of forests to food security.
On the first day of the conference, a new report by the FAO, entitled Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security was launched. Insects are a significant and readily available source of nutritious and protein-rich food that comes from forests. According to the study some 2 billion people consume insects as part of traditional diets. Insect collection and rearing, while often occurring at the household level, offers an opportunity for employment and income at the commercial level too. Despite the obvious benefits, ease of access and cost being two, their consumption can also have environmental benefits. In general feed conversion efficiency is high and they emit far less greenhouse gases than livestock and require less land and water. But, although often thought of as an inexhaustible resource, overconsumption can cause serious population declines and the conservation of certain species is important. In order to capitalise on this food and nutrition source, research and communication on the impacts on human health and well-being, the environment and society in general is needed while at the same time the legal frameworks for their use and the establishment of a formal industry should be developed.