Forest Landscape Restoration: a forward-looking approach to food security

Linking forests and food security through knowledge-sharing communities and a new IUCN publication coming this December

CEESP Youth Member, Olivia Sylvester, contributes to the Indigenous Peoples' Rights to Food in Protected Areas at the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation Conference in Costa Rica.

Although the environmental importance of forest landscape restoration (FLR) in addressing climate change is well recognized, its socio-economic benefits are often overlooked or not well documented. However, there are many examples that showcase the potential of FLR to alleviate poverty, promote food, water and energy security, conserve biodiversity, create jobs, and increase income. Many global initiatives and policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation address some of these issues, but a well-designed FLR approach can look at these issues holistically.

FLR is a process that aims to regain ecological integrity and enhance human well-being in deforested or degraded forest landscapes. It is a forward-looking approach that goes far beyond just planting trees, and can take the form of many different interventions, such as agroforestry, natural regeneration, silvopastoral systems, watershed protection, and mangrove restoration, among others. It is a process that generates multiple benefits for society and the environment and is a visible and cost-effective way to tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our planet.

Although some studies demonstrate the positive impact of FLR on livelihoods, there are many socio-economic benefits from FLR that still are not adequately addressed. Mapping this role of forests and FLR is most urgent in the context of food security, as defined by the Sustainable Development Goals (No. 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture).

Tree-based food systems can provide both the production and provision of ecosystem services and goods that are key to increasing the availability, access, and use of foods – both farmed and wild. And forest-based products are important for the well-being of forest-dependent local communities, particularly tree species of high socioeconomic value and those used for fuelwood.

At the global level, estimates suggest that forest-based employment accounts for 40 million to 80 million full-time job equivalents, 80 per cent of which are in developing countries. Experiences from South Korea, China’s Loess Plateau, and the West African Sahel have shown that using an FLR approach increases crop yields. In the case of Niger, this means producing enough cereals to feed an additional 2.5 million people a year; in Zambia, increasing maize yields by 88 to 190 percent; and in Malawi, 94 per cent of farmers who adopted agroforestry farming methods experienced  improved food security.

The emerging recognition that FLR can be an important strategy for improving food security was discussed during the Forest Landscape Restoration Forum hosted by IUCN and WRI in Washington, DC, in September 2015. One of the thematic sessions focused on food security and FLR, reinforcing that an FLR approach can address all four dimensions of food and nutrition security: availability, access, utilization, and stability. However, the participants also discussed some of the challenges, such as limited understanding and documentation on the links between FLR and food security.

Recommendations from the session included: the need to increase capacity development in FLR; establishing food security targets and indicators when assessing FLR opportunities; addressing legal factors such as tenure systems; and the difficulty in achieving strong engagement from multi-sectoral stakeholders to embrace FLR as a key strategy.       

From these learning experiences, IUCN recognized that knowledge generation on the benefits of FLR to society and environment is critical. As part of our ongoing initiative to capture the full range of benefits from restored forests and landscapes across all dimensions of food and nutrition security, we commissioned a series of papers to provide empirical and scientific evidence of how forest and landscape restoration could contribute to food security. The resulting publication brings together seven case studies from Burkina Faso, Brazil, Guatemala, Vietnam, Ghana, Ethiopia and Philippines, and will be released at the IUCN Pavilion at UNFCCC COP21  and online on 4 December.

The new publication, “Enhancing food security through forest landscape restoration: Lessons from Burkina Faso, Brazil, Guatemala, Vietnam, Ghana, Ethiopia and Philippines” looks at how tree-based food systems can complement traditional food production systems, boost land productivity and functionality, and provide more nutritionally balanced diets, particularly for marginalized groups during periods of vulnerability and scarcity caused by climate change. It argues for a “forward-looking approach” that promotes the sustainable use of natural resources, enhances the resilience of ecosystems, protects and restores the landscape – not only the forests, but also agriculture, agroforestry, mangroves, and more, that sustain the lives of urban and rural communities.

With nearly 2 billion hectares of degraded and deforested lands across the world that can potentially be restored through a wide range of FLR interventions, our legacy should not be measured by how much we did in the past, but for how much we leave for the future.

Work area: 
Forest Landscape Restoration
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