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The Importance of forests for ensuring food – and nutrition security

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In Indonesia, home to the world’s third largest rainforest, many villages are located in or near forest areas. Fifty percent of the villages located in forest areas are vulnerable to food insecurity. The food- and nutrition security of people living in and near forest areas is directly dependent on forests. Forests are crucial sources of food (eatable plants, fruits and wild animals) and medicines (medicinal plants), as well as of other non-food items that ensure food- and nutrition security, e.g. fodder for livestock, and timber for cooking and shelter.

Forests are also crucial support systems for water supply and agricultural activities of people living in and near forest areas, due to their erosion preventing function, which prevents flash floods, landslides, sedimentation of waterways and land degradation, as well as their carbon storage function. The latter slows the pace of climate change, which in turn prevents rainfall variability and disruptions in agricultural calendars and harvest failures. Due to the remoteness of many forest areas, people living in and around them typically don’t have alternative livelihood opportunities available to them other than hunting/gathering and agriculture, and are therefore greatly affected by deforestation and forest degradation.

Unfortunately, their own unsustainable tree cutting and agricultural expansion practices contribute to deforestation and forest degradation. There is often a lack of awareness of the detrimental effects of these practices on their own food- and nutrition security in the longer-term.

In order to ensure long-term food- and nutrition security, whilst at the same time addressing short-term food insecurity, World Food Programme (WFP) Indonesia has implemented Food For Asset (FFA) projects targeting people living in and near forest areas in Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB) and Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) Provinces. The proposals for these projects were drafted by local Forestry Offices in NTB and NTT Provinces, in line with their policies, and further developed together with WFP. The projects involved, amongst others, the planting of fruit- and nut bearing trees and plants used for biofuel production, e.g. Jatropha curcas species, by community members in exchange for food rations. The implementation period was prior to the harvesting season, when food stocks were very limited and farmers had time to spare. The harvested fruits/nuts/oil seeds were consumed/used and/or sold, providing an alternative for unsustainable tree cutting for firewood usage and/or sales. In addition, the carbon stored in the trees was sold on the carbon market.

On slopes that were prone to erosion due to unsustainable tree cutting, terraces were constructed and planted with trees and crops, using the agroforestry approach. In lower lying areas, check dams were constructed to limit the devastating effects of flash floods and landslides, and sedimentation of waterways caused by erosion. In combination with the construction of irrigation canals, these dams also ensure sufficient water supply for agricultural activities.

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