The International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition, organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) from 13 – 15 May in Rome, drew more than 400 participants from all over the world.  There was strong representation from the forestry sector as well as some wildlife experts from governments and conservation organisations.

The focus of the conference was on forest ecosystems and their contribution to food security and nutrition around the world, with a strong emphasis on plant-based resources. Wildlife forms an integral part of natural forest ecosystems and Dr Rosie Cooney (SULi Chair) and I were invited to give a presentation at a side event to explore the contribution of wildlife to food security. The side event gave an overview of the implications of sustainable wildlife management for food security, nutrition and poverty alleviation in a global and regional context and included presentations on legal hunting, bushmeat and the illegal trade in bushmeat. In our presentation we discussed the implications of wildlife consumption and use for food security and nutrition in a global context.

The contribution of wildlife to the nutrition and economic wellbeing of various peoples around the world was discussed to some detail in the presentation which also went on to provide data from sample countries. We highlighted the current and real risk of over exploitation and gave examples of these and their driving forces. In many countries, sustainable traditional practices have given way to large scale (legal and illegal) commercial trade spanning international borders and various reports indicate that wildlife extraction at current rates is often not sustainable. Declining wildlife numbers as well as the rapid conversion of forest is posing a real threat to forest dependent communities. Responses to the ongoing problems have been disjointed and disingenuous in many countries and this poses a serious threat to what can be a major contributor to food security in many countries. There appears to be limited concerted and coordinated effort at national levels to mitigate overexploitation but equally importantly, to genuinely explore and implement sustainable use practices and policies to capture the full potential of this vital source of food.

The key point made in our presentation was that wildlife is and can continue to be a vital source of food, to support security, and provide for proper nutrition. While recognizing this value, it is of extreme importance that action be taken now and we are calling upon FAO to develop a focused programme to recognize the importance and potential of wildlife as a food source, examine successful models in various countries and encourage countries to implement the necessary instruments and institutions to take full advantage of wildlife for food security and nutrition in a sustainable way.

Ali A. Kaka is IUCN's Regional Director, Eastern and Southern Africa