Preserve Trees and Forest for Sustainable Diets: Happy International Day of Forests

Forests are the lungs of our planet.  They cover one-third of all land area, and are home to 80 per cent of terrestrial biodiversity.  They are crucial for addressing a multitude of sustainable development imperatives, from poverty eradication to food security, from mitigating and adapting to climate change to reducing disaster risk.  This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests.

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Cover one third of the Earth's land mass, forests perform vital functions around the world. Around 1.6 billion people - including more than 2,000 indigenous cultures - depend on forests for their livelihood. Yet, 30 percent of the world‘s forests are used primarily for production of wood products. Agroforestry is an integrated approach incorporating crops, livestock, shrubs, and trees. These practices help landowners diversify products and income while improving soil and water quality.

Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent populations. They play a key role in our battle against climate change. Forests contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air. They protect watersheds, which supply fresh water to rivers. Yet despite all of these priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, we are destroying the very forests we need to survive. Global deforestation continues at an alarming rate - 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually. Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

A recent report published by Bioversity International, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and Charles Sturt University explains how trees and forests can play a big role in sustainable diets. Unfortunately, cultural factors and limited data about food production from forests inhibit policy-makers, farmers, scientists and eaters from understanding the various benefits of agroforestry.

“Food from the forest offers sources of essential nutrients like iron, vitamin A and zinc—often lacking from diets in developing countries,” says Amy Ickowitz, a scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

Bush meat or wild meat, for example, is the main source of animal protein in many tropical forested areas. Meat from birds, wild pigs, and small rodents is often the only source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron for some communities, including in Madagascar, where the loss of bushmeat would result in a 29 percent increase in iron deficiency anemia in children.

Forest food is also socially and culturally important to many societies. But, whether forest food is actually consumed depends on local trends and practices, says the report. 

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