When it comes to food security, forests can be a life-saver. Forests provide fruits, leaves, nuts and mushrooms. These foods are crucial for nutrition in rural communities, and can cushion against hunger when harvests are low. However, forests are rarely included in food security strategies.
In fact, forestry and agriculture are often managed separately, where one is seen as providing timber and the other one as providing food. That is why access to forest food resources rarely gets into forestry regulations.
With world hunger on the rise again, for the first time in over a decade, we need to look beyond food production indicators to deliver on hunger.
The “Forest for food security – in the light of equal rights and sustainable resource management” session, hosted by Focali during the Agri4D Conference in Uppsala in September 2017, brought attention to this issue, underscoring the fact that food insecurity is more about social justice and respect to human rights than about boosting agricultural production.
We tend to think that solving hunger is about higher yields and free meals. However, many social workers report that it is the same people who come to get a free meal month after month. If you don’t have land for growing food or money to buy it, there is not much choice but to rely on social safety nets.
What is more, we already know that the world produces enough food for everyone. The real issue is that the food is unequally distributed and wasted. We also know that 80% of the food consumed in Africa and Asia is produced by smallholder farmers. Still, it is these farmers and forest communities who represent a big proportion of the world hunger statistics. For them, a nearby forest is something to fall back on.
And so, it appears that factors of hunger are far from the fields. Food security is compromised by unclear and unfair land rights, that often disadvantage women, unequal food distribution, that leaves farmers behind, and regulations, that do not meet the needs of the poor. All of them are rooted in social structures rather than in food production per se. So, ultimately, if we look at hunger as a matter of social justice, solving issues of land rights, gender equity and segregated governance could lead to better outcomes than food aid or agricultural subsidies.