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Bridging forestry agriculture gap to improve food security

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calls for better coordination between the two sectors towards sustainable farming systems and forest management

While agriculture remains the most significant driver of global deforestation, there is an urgent need to promote more positive interactions between agriculture and forestry to build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security. This is the key message of the FAO's flagship publication The State of the World's Forests (SOFO), presented today at the opening of the 23rd Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO) in Rome.

Forests play a major role in sustainable agricultural development through a host of channels, including the water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, natural pest control, influencing local climates and providing habitat protection for pollinators and other species.

"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognizes that we can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately,"said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in his opening remarks to the Committee on Forestry." Both agreements call for a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability across all agricultural sectors and food systems. Forests and forestry have key roles to play in this regard".

"The key message from SOFO is clear: it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food," he added.

Agriculture accounts for the lion's share of the conversion of forests. According to today's report, in the tropics and subtropics large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40 percent and 33 percent of forest conversion, respectively, and the remaining 27 percent of deforestation happens due to urban growth, infrastructure expansion and mining.

On the flip side of the coin, the report stresses that forests serve many vital ecological functions that benefit agriculture and boost food production.

"Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than through expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of forests," said Eva Müller, Director of FAO's Forestry Policy and Resources Division. "What we need is better cross-sectoral coordination of policies on agriculture, forestry, food and land use, better land use planning, effective legal frameworks, and stronger involvement of local communities and smallholders," she added.

She further said, "Governments should provide local communities not only with secure land tenure but also with secure forest tenure rights. A farmer knows best how to manage his or her own resources but often lacks legal instruments to do so."

Improving food security while halting deforestation

Well-managed forests have tremendous potential to promote food security. Besides their vital ecological contributions, forests contribute to rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation through income generated by engaging in the production of forest goods and environmental services. About 2.4 billion people across the world rely on woodfuel for cooking and water sterilization. And forest foods provide protein, minerals and vitamins to rural diets and can also serve as safety nets in periods of food scarcity.

According to SOFO, since 1990, over 20 countries succeeded in improving national levels of food security while at the same time maintaining or increasing forest cover - demonstrating that it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food. Twelve of these countries increased forest cover by over 10 percent: Algeria, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, Viet Nam.

Their successes all relied on a similar set of tools: effective legal frameworks, secure land tenure, measures to regulate land-use change, policy incentives for sustainable agriculture and forestry, adequate funding, and clear definition of roles and responsibilities of governments and local communities. 

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