Forests Key to Solving the Global Hunger Crisis

Dr. Bhaskar Vira is Chair of the Global Forest Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, convened by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations. In a recent article, Dr Vira wrote, “About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger, with the majority living in Africa and Asia. The world’s forests have great potential to improve their nutrition and ensure their livelihoods. In fact, forests could be essential to global food security, particularly when considering the importance of diverse, nutritionally-balanced diets.”

Whilst it’s well accepted that forests are key to sustaining biodiversity and alleviating the impact of climate change, Dr Vira believes, “their contribution to alleviating hunger and improving nutrition has been somewhat neglected.” A recent study conducted by the Global Forest Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, which Dr Vira chaired, outlines how forests can complement agricultural production and give an economic boost to some of the world’s most vulnerable regions.

According to the study, there are four ways forests can benefit food security:

    1. Trees are rich in vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients, and are essential to a diverse diet
    2. Wild meat, fish, and insects are also important forest food sources. Particularly in South-East Asia, many forests and agroforests (tree-based farms) are managed specifically to enhance edible insect supply
    3. Forests are essential for firewood and charcoal, facilitating cooking and heating
    4. Trees offer a multitude of ecological services – for example, pollinators which are essential for crop production

So, what more can be done to leverage forests for food production? Dr Vira writes, “Novel initiatives are attempting to develop new tree commodities to supply the poor with sustainable incomes. For example, poor producers in Tanzania are engaged in a global effort to produce the seeds of the Allanblackia crop, which yield an edible oil. A private–public partnership known as Novella Africa is developing a sustainable Allanblackia oil business that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually for local farmers.”

For more information, read Dr Vira’s article in full.

photo credit: Erik HersmanCC BY