Forests, trees and food

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Forests, trees and food

Despite substantial increases in food production in many countries over the past two decades, the world is still poorly fed. Over 500 million people suffer from malnutrition; and every year about 20 million people die of starvation and its related diseases. In this situation, it is important that every effort be made to improve nutrition and increase food security, particularly for the rural poor. This publication aims to afford proper recognition to the contribution forests and trees make to the food economies of rural societies. It also outlines the changes that need to be made within forestry institutions to enable them to make a significant contribution to the food security of local communities. Food security is increased not only by the presence of forests but also by the small stands of trees found in homegardens and on farms. We use the term `cultivated trees' to describe the latter, and reserve the term `forests' for large stands of trees situated outside the homestead or farm, whether such forests are managed or not. Both play major, often little recognized roles in improving food security in rural communities. Parts of forest plants and trees are also used in traditional medicines. These medicines stimulate appetite, help the body to utilize nutrients in food, and fight infection. Tree products provide an extra source of income for the rural poor without which many families would go hungry or become malnourished. Fuelwood and charcoal, rattan and other materials for furniture making, tendu leaves for cigarette manufacture, gum arabic for a variety of industrial uses, numerous oils and resins, dyes and medicines are all sold by the rural poor. They enable millions of the poorest people in the world to earn the cash they need to avoid starvation. Forests and agroforestry systems also play important roles in stabilizing agriculture's resource base, for example, by slowing down soil erosion by wind and water and reducing sedimentation in rivers. In some cases, trees improve and enrich agricultural soil and help stabilize water supplies, thus improving soil productivity and making sustainable cultivation of marginal lands possible. Trees also exert important influences on micro-climates, thereby improving agricultural production.

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