August 10, 2022

Revolutionize the food production system or face massive deforestation, scientists warn

View of deforestation around Lake Lagano in Ethiopia. Migration, agricultural expansion and charcoal production have cleared the forests in this area. CIFOR/Olivier Girard

Unless land management strategies are overhauled to narrow the gap between forestry and agriculture, it will be impossible to nurture and nourish the human population without further damaging the environment and forests, scientists say.

Globally, 80 percent of forest loss is caused by agricultural expansion, more than a quarter of which comes from the production of primary commodities, mostly related to livestock, soy and palm oil. Heavily forested countries with lower production costs and fewer environmental regulations are used to meet the ever-increasing demand for agricultural land.

Forests should be better integrated with agriculture rather than cleared to make way for it, said Terry Sunderland, senior associate scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and professor in the Faculty of Forestry at the Canadian University of Colombia. -British.

“We need to rethink our entire food production system and redouble our efforts to invest in sustainable small-scale farming techniques,” Sunderland said.

“Integrated landscape management techniques such as agroforestry systems are vital for protecting forest biodiversity, essential for the nutrition and growth of a diversity of crops. Such systems are inherently more resilient to economic and environmental shocks.

It is estimated that small farms produce between 30 and 80 percent of the world’s food, he added.

The warning appears in “SDG 2: Zero Hunger – Challenging the Hegemony of Monoculture Agriculture for Forests and People”, a chapter of a book titled Sustainable Development Goals: their impacts on forests and people.

The book focuses on how forests and the communities that depend on them will be affected by the achievement of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

He argues that the current food system ignores the important cultural and nutritional contribution of forests and other tree-based systems, such as agroforestry, to human nutrition.

For 95% of human history, mankind has sustained itself by hunting and gathering in grasslands, forests, and other natural habitats. It wasn’t until around 10,000 years ago, when grasses, grains and some animals were domesticated, that more sedentary and simplified production farms began to emerge.

While some traditional and indigenous communities continue to eat a wide variety of species in their diets, the general trend around the world is towards simplification. Only 12 crops and 14 animal species now provide most of the world’s food, the document says.

Our contemporary global food system is the manifestation of this simplification, Sunderland said. More than 800,000 people worldwide do not have enough to eat, about 2 billion people suffer from hidden hunger, which is characterized by iron deficiency anemia, vitamin A and zinc deficiency, and 1.9 billion people are overweight. These are all forms of malnutrition, Sunderland said.

In today’s food system, diets tend to be high in sugar, fat, refined carbohydrates, meat and dairy, although it is best to eat vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, unsaturated oils and small amounts of seafood and poultry.

“The logic behind the current approach to agriculture has become disconnected from nature, even though, ironically, agriculture depends on it, in the form of the provision of ecosystem services such as pollination, the cycling nutrients, watershed protection, among others,” Sunderland mentioned.

“This fact seems to have been lost in our current economic system. To achieve SDG 2 and food security, nature and agriculture will have to be reassociated.

Currently, more than 40% of the world’s land area is under cultivation, most of it at the expense of forests, the document says. Forests are seen either as space for agricultural expansion or as a threatened resource that needs to be protected, but we must recognize that they need to be linked, Sunderland said.

Combining trees and crops on farms can provide substantial benefits. Shade-tolerant crops produce higher yields, and one study has shown that cocoa grown under trees can produce yields for 60 to 100 years versus 20 years or less without.

Forests are destroyed for a small amount of crops and livestock, a situation that reduces nutrient availability and makes the food system vulnerable to climate change.

“We need to see a sea change in government policies,” Sunderland said.

Forests remain vital to the food production of many indigenous peoples and rural communities, providing diverse and nutritious food, ecosystem services and fuelwood for cooking.

Land rights are essential for the preservation of biodiversity, but in much of the world, people in rural and forest areas do not have formal rights to land or forests.

“The fundamental right to food plays out in various ways around the world, often with conflicting claims to forest resources,” Sunderland said.

“Of course, forests and trees within agroforestry systems alone will not achieve global food security, but as part of an integrated strategy that combines sustainable forestry and sustainable agriculture.

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