This is the key message of the FAO report “The State of the World's Forests” (SOFO), presented today at the beginning of the 23rd session of the FAO Committee on Forests (COFO).
Forests play a key role in sustainable agricultural development through various pathways, including the water cycle, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, and natural pest control, as well as influencing the local climate and protecting the habitat of pollinators and other species.
The Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva assured that “the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognize that we can no longer deal with food and natural resource management separately. . Both agreements require a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability in all agricultural sectors and food systems. In this sense, forests and forestry play a key role ”.
"The key message of SOFO - he added - is clear: it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food."
Agriculture represents the main part of the conversion of forests to other uses. According to the latest SOFO, in the tropics and subtropics large-scale commercial agriculture and local subsistence agriculture are responsible for about 40 and 33 percent of forest conversion, respectively, with the remaining 27 percent due to to urban growth, the expansion of infrastructure and mining.
On the other hand, the report highlights how forests fulfill many vital ecological functions that benefit agriculture and drive food production.
"Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than by expanding agricultural areas at the expense of forests," said Eva Müller, Director of the Forest Policy and Resources Division of FAO.
"What we need is better cross-sectoral coordination of agriculture, forestry, food and land use policies, better land use planning, effective legal frameworks, and greater involvement of local communities and smallholders," he added. .
“Governments,” Müller stressed, “must provide local communities with not only secure land tenure, but also secure tenure rights to forests. A peasant is the one who knows best how to manage his own resources, but often lacks the legal instruments to do so ”.
Improve food security, while curbing deforestation
Well-managed forests have enormous potential to promote food security. In addition to their vital ecological contributions, forests contribute to rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation through income generated from the production of forest goods and environmental services.
About 2.4 billion people depend on firewood for cooking and sterilizing water. And forest foods add protein, minerals and vitamins to the rural diet and can also serve as safety nets in times of food shortage.
According to SOFO, more than 20 countries have been successful since 1990 in improving their national levels of food security while maintaining or increasing forest cover, thereby demonstrating that forests do not need to be cut down to produce more food.
Twelve of these countries increased their forest cover by more than 10 percent: Algeria, Chile, China, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay and Viet Nam.
All these achievements were based on a similar set of tools: effective frameworks, secure land tenure, measures to regulate changes in land use, regulatory incentives for sustainable agriculture and forestry, adequate financing, and a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of local governments and communities.
Case studies showing success
The report cites case studies from seven countries -Chile, Costa Rica, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, TunisiaYViet nam- illustrating opportunities to improve food security and increase or maintain forest cover.
Six of these countries achieved a positive change in the period 1990-2015 in two indicators of food security - the prevalence of undernourishment and the number of undernourished - as well as the increase in forest area. The Gambia, the only low-income country in the group, managed to achieve the first goal of halving the proportion of people who suffered from hunger in the same period.
Viet namFor example, it has successfully implemented a reform to provide secure land tenure as a way to encourage long-term investment. This process was accompanied by a shift from state forestry to multi-stakeholder forestry, with the active participation of communities at the local level, including a forest land allocation program and forest protection contracts with local families. Land tenure reform was also combined with policy instruments to increase agricultural productivity, such as exemptions from land taxes, soft credits, export promotion, guaranteed prices, support for mechanization and reduction of post losses. -harvest.
InCosta Rica, deforestation peaked in the 1980s, mainly due to the conversion of forest cover to pasture. Since then, the country has reversed this trend in large part due to the forest law, which now prohibits the change of use of natural forests, and its system of Payments for Environmental Services (PES), which offers farmers incentives to plant trees and supports forest conservation. As a result, forest cover has increased to almost 54 percent of the country's land area in 2015.
InTunisia national development plans recognize the beneficial role of forests in protecting the land against erosion and desertification. Agricultural production has increased thanks to intensification, which makes better use of existing agricultural lands with irrigation, fertilizers, mechanization, improved seeds, and better agricultural practices. Incentives to create forest plantations in the country include free seedlings and compensation for loss of agricultural income.