The vital role of forests for food security

Paul van Gardingen
July 25, 2016

It’s great to see the BBC pick up on a story that will come as no surprise to those of us that work in the world of ecosystems services. But what might be news to the BBC, that farming and forestry can deliver food security, is definitely not new news to us - the forest-agriculture interface has long been a key focus for us here at ESPA.

For example, Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries and subject to extreme deforestation due to agricultural expansion - less than 30% of the land remains covered in forest. Despite this, nearly 3 million people will still experience acute food insecurity during 2015/2016.

Our ASSETS team have been working in the country to increase food security by highlighting and resolving the many trade-offs touched on in the BBC article and the associated UN report. 

The team’s participatory rural assessments, food and health diaries and focus group discussions have been integrated into a suite of powerful modelling tools, such as ARIES - Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services – to quantify and predict how ecosystems could change and their associated impact.

The government ministries of education, health and nutrition in Malawi are now using the project’s findings, and the team’s method of collecting food diaries from illiterate households has been adopted by the Ministry of Health for their nutritional assessments. And thanks to our work, the Education Minister wants ecosystem services to be part of the school curriculum to raise awareness, enhance knowledge and build capacity in this important area 


Our research has also been used by the pan-African Ecosystem-based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) and our researchers were part of team that drafted the conference declaration outlining the importance of ecosystems to food security, climate resilience, productivity, and job creation in Africa. 

Meanwhile in the Madagascan rainforests our P4ges project has been investigating whether international ecosystem service payment schemes can help the poor directly and in turn reduce deforestation and the need for agricultural land. 

It has shown that these compensation schemes do not always benefit the right people and that the processes for identifying recipients of the scheme are vulnerable to elite capture. 

Our researchers found that compensation has been awarded to those who hold positions of authority locally, have better food security, and are more accessible to outsiders, while missing out significant numbers who are worse off and are most dependent on the natural resources. 

The results have been presented to the World Bank, organisations such as Conservation International, and a range of local, regional and national stakeholders making them aware of their rights to empower them to take action which will help preserve the forests and their livelihoods.

As Jose Granziano da Silva himself said, its clear “forests and agriculture have an enormous role in achieving the 2030 Agenda's historic commitment to rid the world of the twin scourges of poverty and hunger”

We at ESPA agree!

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Featured image courtesy of Ollivier Girard/CGIAR