Food security and nutrition: The role of forests

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With a growing global population, much of the current discourse on food security is focussed on increasing and expanding agricultural production. Much of this expansion is speculated to be at the expense of natural systems. However, some suggest that we already grow enough food and food scarcity is primarily caused by inadequate distribution, a lack of purchasing power and other non-productive causes. Thus the emphasis on production alone is not sufficient to guarantee future food security. Forests and tree-based agricultural systems contribute directly and indirectly to the livelihoods of an estimated one billion people globally. Wild foods are important for food security and nutrition while trees and forests are vital for their role in the provision of ecosystem services to agriculture. The alarming expansion of large-scale industrial production systems in tropical regions threaten the contributions of forests and tree-based agriculture systems to food security, diets and nutrition in the tropical regions of the world in particular may threaten the potential contributions of forests to the food security, diets and nutrition of a growing world population. Despite this, the role of forests in supporting human food security and nutrition remain largely under-researched and understood. With food security and nutrition high on the agenda in many political and scientific spheres, it is crucial to understand the contribution of forests and trees to a food secure and nutrition-sensitive future. This improved understanding will be essential for building on synergies and minimizing trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture in order to feed an estimated global population of nine billion people by 2050. Although existing evidence is limited, a considerable body of work suggests that forests support both food security and contribute to improved nutrition across the globe. Wild fruits and vegetables are a crucial source of micronutrients in many rural and smallholder communities, and often provide a major contribution to cash income at the household level. Bushmeat and fuelwood for subsistence and income generation contribute both directly and indirectly to food security and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America. There is now an urgent need for research that can provide broader perspectives and allow of cross-site comparisons of the contributions of forests and tree-based agricultural systems to food security, livelihoods, healthy diets and nutrition. In addition, evidence is required on the contribution of forests based ecosystems service in order to ensure forests and biodiversity conservation remains on the agenda of policy makers and practitioners in conservation, agriculture and nutrition. The dearth of empirical descriptions and quantification of ecosystems services to agriculture limits the inclusion on initiatives related to the sustainable intensification of agriculture for example and in depth studies could contribute to a better understanding on the trade-offs between land sharing and land sparing as strategies for future food production. We believe that forests, biodiversity conservation and agro-ecology should feature prominently in political and scientific discourse on agricultural production and the concomitant challenge of sustainable forest management. Greater attention to the direct and indirect benefits of forest in food security, livelihoods and nutrition should enhance local and global efforts to end hunger and improve the nutrition of communities living in forested areas as well as those living in areas removed from forests.

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