The latest edition of the State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) report explores the relationship between agriculture and forestry for a food-secure future.
Food production and the role of forests
- As part of commitment to the SDGs, countries are committed to end hunger by 2030 by ensuring sustainable food production.
- Making agriculture sustainable is essential for future food production in the face of climate change.
While agriculture can feed the world’s population, it is responsible for deforestation globally.
Ensuring food security
- The report says that forests support sustainable agriculture by stabilising soils and climate, regulating water flow, providing shade and shelter and providing a habitat for pollinators and natural predators of agricultural pests. When integrated judiciously into agricultural landscapes, trees can increase agricultural productivity.
- Increasing crop productivity, if paired with direct forest protection measures, can increase both agricultural production and forest cover. But without direct forest protection, increasing crop productivity can put forests at greater risk by making it more profitable to clear land for crops.
Forests ensure the food security of millions of people worldwide, as they are important sources of food, energy and income.
Combating climate change
- The SOFO report shows that some countries have successfully increased agricultural productivity while also halting and reversing deforestation.
- Deforestation was most prevalent in the temperate climatic domain until the late nineteenth century and is now greatest in the tropical climatic domain.
- Temperate countries have been decimating their forests for centuries, but these days most of their primary forests are protected. The tropics, on the other hand, are losing an area of forest the size of Portugal every year.
- In Brazil, since 2004, the country has reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80 per cent while increasing soy production by 65 per cent and beef production by 21 per cent.
- Commercial agriculture accounts for about 40 per cent of deforestation in the tropics and sub-tropics, local subsistence agriculture for 33 per cent, infrastructure for 10 per cent, urban expansion for 10 percent and mining for 7 per cent, the SOFO report adds.
- As forests are “multifunctional”, they can combat climate change. The report says that reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks will be essential to fight climate change.
- Deforestation contributes more than 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but it only expands the world’s agricultural land by around one-tenth of a per cent a year. This means that protecting and restoring forests is critical for stopping climate change, but the big gains in improving food security will happen elsewhere.
- SDGS and targets that refer explicitly to agriculture and forests
- SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
- SDG 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
- SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
Forests produce timber and non-timber products, conserve soil, recharge groundwater, purify air, provide habitat for biodiversity and benefit local communities.
Improving food security
The report presents case studies from seven countries—Chile, Costa Rica, The Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Tunisia and Viet Nam—that show how food security was ensured through an increase or maintenance of forest cover.
- Six of these countries achieved a positive change in the period (1990-2015) in two food-security indicators—the prevalence of undernourishment and the number of undernourished people—as well as increase in the forest area.
- Viet Nam’s success lies in the shift from state forestry to multi-stakeholder forestry involving the active participation of local communities. This includes a forest land allocation programme and forest protection contracts entered into with local households.
- The system of Payments for Environmental Services, which provides farmers with incentives to plant trees and supports forest conservation, has been a positive trend. Forest cover has increased to nearly 54 per cent in 2015.
- Net forest loss due to conversion has been halted. Previously, forests were regarded as “land banks” that could be converted as necessary to meet agricultural needs.
- Soil erosion, a huge problem in Africa, is mainly caused by the exposure of the bare soil surface by inappropriate management practices such as cultivation, deforestation, overgrazing and drought. The Status of the World’s Soil Resources report has established that 40 per cent of Africa’s soils are severely degraded.
In Tunisia, agricultural production has increased through intensification that makes better use of existing agricultural land through irrigation, fertilisation, mechanisation, improved seeds and better farming practices.