Role of Tree-Based Systems in Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition
Tree-based systems: Agroforestry; farmer-managed natural regeneration; agroforests, parklands, woodlands, forests, shrublands, rangelands
Organic fertilizers: Green fertilizers, improved fallows
Forest and tree foods: Edible products from forests and trees such as fruits, seeds, roots, mushrooms, termites, bushmeat, etc.
- Tree-based system
This term is used in a synonymous way with agroforestry with particular emphasis on agricultural systems, forest, woodlands, shrubland, as well as pastoral or rangeland system in which woody perennials play significant environmental, social, and economic roles (Place et al. 2016). In this regard, agroforestry as defined by Dawson et al. (2013) refers to an integration of trees with annual crop cultivation, livestock production, and other farm activities. It ranges from open parkland assemblages, to dense imitations of tropical rainforests such as home gardens, to planted mixtures of only a few species, to trees planted in hedges or on boundaries of fields and farms, with differing levels of human management of the various components.
The role of tree-based systems in enhancing food security and nutrition at local, regional, and global levels cannot be underestimated. There is overwhelming evidence that forests and tree-based systems provide alternatives to conventional agricultural production in most countries across the world. Specifically, tree-based systems and forests remain a source of woodfuel and provide broad-based ecosystem services that are crucial in enhancing crop production and well-balanced nutritive diets (Meine et al. 2014; Vira et al. 2015a). In this regard, trees and forests serve as safety nets when agricultural production systems fail to address global hunger for over 800 million malnourished people and increasing demand of balanced diet for ever-growing population that is projected to reach at least 9 billion in 2050 (Vinceti et al. 2013; FAO et al. 2014). Also, when food prices fluctuate accompanied with crop failure and other livelihood strategies confronted with economic, environmental, and political shocks especially to local people, they turn to forest and tree resources for provision of diet food and income (Powell et al. 2013).
The direct and indirect contribution of tree-based systems to food security and nutrition is being researched and documented for dissemination. For example, Vira et al. (2015b) grouped the direct roles of forest-tree-landscape continuum in terms of dietary diversity, quality, and quantity and livelihood safety nets. The former included food provisioning such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms, fodder, and forage for animal source foods like bushmeat, fish, and insects. The latter consists of provision of food in time of seasonal and other scarcities as well as nutritional composition. The indirect contributions include development of tree products, both timber and non-timber forest/tree products for income generation to support households in purchase of dietary and nutritious foods. The other indirect benefits of forests and trees that directly influence food security include ecosystem services such as provision of genetic resources, pollination, habitat for provisioning, water provisioning, soil formation, erosion control, nutrient cycling, and pest regulation. Therefore, strengthening understanding on the functions of tree-based system in agricultural production and food security remains important in addressing the challenges associated with inadequate production and availability of food at household, national, and global levels. In this sense, more research is needed to uncover the potential of tree-based systems in responding to the global food deficits. This may entail directing efforts toward value addition, discovering tree species that are edible, and ensuring mass production of the same to ensure sustainable supply and access to nutritive food. In this regard, the promotion of tree-based systems for food supply demands concerted efforts from interested parties to ensure affordability and quality.
The global recognition of tree-based systems and forests in fighting hunger among vulnerable communities has set a good discourse among different stakeholders addressing food security and nutrition. The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, for example, in their report, profiled the contribution of forests and trees on availability, access, utilization, and stability of food (HLPE 2017). In terms of availability, forest and tree-based food systems are crucial because they remain the source fodder by farmers and pastoralists, whereas in access to formal and informal employment, it is estimated that over 13.2 million people make livelihood through the forest and tree resources. The utilization in terms of bioenergy/provision of energy is estimated to be used by more than 2.4 billion people depending on wood for cooking of which 764 million people use woodfuel to boil and sterile water. Tree-based systems and forests are also known to impact positively on human health through provision and access to medicinal plants as well as improving mental health of people by reducing depression and stress (HLPE 2017).
Tree-based systems are also documented to enhance soil fertility and improve crop production resulting in increased food availability. Building considerable evidence on the tree resources toward food security will not only enhance conservation of biodiversity but also set the agenda for policy makers to address agriculture and nutrition. In this regard, investing on studies that will generate better understanding on land priorities and strategies/programs for food production will remain crucial in addressing chronic food insecurity globally, more so in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Sunderland et al. (2013), for instance, reported that forestry, biodiversity, and agroecology are featured prominently in political and scientific discourses on agricultural production. Therefore greater attention to forests and tree-based systems in ensuring food security, livelihood improvement, and nutrition to end challenges of food insecurity among rural poor remains paramount.
In spite of the positive narratives developed on the role of tree-based system and forests for enhancing food security and nutrition, there exist challenges hindering effective provision of the same. The rapid expansion of large-scale industrial production systems, for example, is significantly affecting the role of forests and tree resources in food security, diets, and nutrition of fast-growing population especially in the tropics across the world (Sunderland et al. 2013). The rapid population growth demanding for more agricultural land, human settlement, urbanization, and provision of other basic necessities are pushing planting of trees to less arable land (Oeba et al. 2012) that hinders tree productivity to supplement agricultural food production, especially in developing and least developed world. Poor and conflicting policies on agriculture, forestry, and other land uses (AFOLU) sector are also contributing to less attention on the role of tree-based system in addressing food security. Similarly, rapid rate of deforestation especially in the tropics is depleting genetic resources, affecting biodiversity, and increasing erosion of soil nutrients resulting in reduced agricultural production, thus contributing to food insecurity. This entry therefore sought to enhance understanding on the contribution of tree-based systems to food security and nutrition. The development of this entry is based on the synthesis of secondary literature to address the focus of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. It’s structured into three major areas, namely, tree-based systems in ending hunger and achieving food security and nutrition; challenges associated with tree-based systems in addressing food production and nutrition; and policy-based interventions in promoting tree-based systems for enhancing food security and nutrition. The discussion on these three broad areas is drawn from global studies published in peer-refereed journal articles, high-level technical reports, and books among other related knowledge products.
Tree-Based Systems in Ending Hunger and Achieving Food Security and Nutrition
Direct Contribution of Forest and Tree Resources to Food Security and Nutrition
The fruits and leaves of species like Boscia senegalensis, Momordica balsamina, Irvingia gabonensis, and Acacia albida are rich in niacin, while the leaves of Anacardium sp., Sesbania grandiflora, and Cassia obtusifolia are very rich in riboflavin (Falconer and Arnold 1988). Studies have shown that indigenous fruits, for example, in Southern Africa contribute to 42% of the natural food basket (Kalaba et al. 2010). This demonstrates vividly the role of forest and tree resources in provision of high-quality and nutritive food to the growing population across the world. In this regard, trees on farm remain a major source of food and fodder, supplementing the production from agricultural sector and other related sectors supporting food security and nutrition in any country. This is well buttressed by case studies taken in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, the Philippines, and Vietnam that underscore the role of forest and tree resources for food security (Kumar et al. 2015). Specifically, study undertaken in Burkina Faso showed that smallholders, who rehabilitated their degraded lands and forests, were able to harvest at least six different products that included fodder for livestock, legumes, and cereals among others (Djenontin and Djoudi 2015). In Brazil, the revenue from fruits, woods, and oils increased due to better land management practices that strengthened food security among smallholder farmers (Gomes et al. 2015). In Ethiopia, there was also an increase of crop yield, whereas in Ghana using cocoa agroforestry enhanced food production (Nunoo et al. 2015; Weldesemaet 2015). In Guatemala, use of kuxur rum agroforestry system enhanced food security and nutrition by increasing crop productivity and access to food by diversification of agricultural products and reducing risk of crop failure (Maradiaga 2015). In Vietnam, restoration of mangroves improved food security and other sources of livelihoods for better living standards (Cuc 2015), whereas in the Philippines, food production was improved due to improved biodiversity and sustainable use of forest and tree resources (Gregorio et al. 2015).
The domestication of such species on farm and conservation of forests would result in sustainable production and availability of food that is rich in diet for better living standards of people. Forests are also known to be sources of high-quality mushrooms, termite larvae, caterpillars, snails, honey, and bushmeat. The latter is a result of forests and tree-based system providing good habitat for wild animals and fish that are rich in protein. For instance, in Thailand, trees left in paddy fields and on dikes provide good habitat for most consumed wild animals like tree ants, birds, and lizards among others. The food diversity represented by forest and tree-based system indicates dietary strength among communities that depend on natural resources for food security and nutrition. A survey conducted in Malawi showed that in a period of 25 months, a total of 37 different leafy vegetables, 2 root vegetables, 21 fruits, and 23 mushrooms and 14 caterpillar species were collected (Kalaba et al. 2010). Equally, a study on the roles and values of wild foods in agricultural systems showed that the mean use of wild foods by agricultural and forager communities in 22 countries in Asia and Africa was about 90–100 species per location (Bharucha and Pretty 2010). Also, honey collected from forests and woodlands is a very vital food supplement among communities especially in the tropics and Sahel. The access of non-timber forest food products does not only contribute to food availability but also access to medicinal value that is important in dietary requirements. This shows significant contribution of forest and tree resources in provision of varied food types with essential nutrients, thus contributing to ending of hunger and improved food nutrition.
Trees are also rich in fodder for animals that also remain direct source of quality food among many households. The access of these food resources from the forests has been enabled by putting in place suitable institutional frameworks and policies on rights to forest and tree resources and proper management and governance in order to enhance sustainable forest management. It’s therefore imperative to raise the profile of tree-based system in contributing to ending of hunger in line with set targets of the SDG 2. Studies have shown that forest and trees play an important role during specific seasons of the year, especially when stored food supplies have greatly reduced and new cropping season is commencing. The observed trend is that there is significant rise on the consumption of forest and tree food during this period. For instance, forest and tree food are valued especially during the peak agricultural labor period when there is limited time for cooking. Also during rainy season, women especially in developing countries are reported spending a lot of hours collecting mushroom from forests. Equally, during the dry period, households especially in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique have been reported to rely on fruits collected from woodlands and forests (Kalaba et al. 2010).
Indirect Contribution of Forest and Tree Resources to Food Security and Nutrition
Similarly, many rural dwellers especially in developing and least developed countries depend on biomass energy for cooking and heating food. Forest and tree resources are major sources of firewood and charcoal. In this manner, tree-based system indirectly contributes to availability of food at the household level. Otherwise, without woodfuel, majority of population in the developing world cannot access smoked and dried fish, seeds, oil, corns, nuts, and others. Global statistics shows that about 2.4 billion people mainly in the developing world depend on use of woodfuel for cooking (FAO 2013). This implies that forest and tree resources significantly contribute to food security. In this regard, much attention should be geared to the sustainable management of forests and trees outside forests in order to enhance the four pillars of food security and nutrition, namely, access, availability, use, and stability.
Woodfuel industry is also known to generate additional income at the household level that can be used to buy quality food. This is evident in many African, Asian, and Latin American countries where there is burgeoning woodfuel markets and trading. Also, poor household dwellers get additional income from sale of their tree produce, timber and non-timber forest products to supplement household budget to cater for food and other basic necessities. The forest and tree-based artisan industries such as wood carving, carpentry and joinery, waste and residue products, etc. that are currently growing offer direct employment to people. The income earned through this sector supports families to ensure there is food security throughout the year. The savings made from such forest-tree-based activities can also be used for investment in agricultural sector like dairy and beef farming/livestock, land acquisition for farming, purchase of farm inputs, and acquisition of farm machinery among others. In this manner, the indirect role of tree-based system in contributing to food security and nutrition at household and national level remains paramount. Tree-based system is also viewed as insurance against crop failure during drought periods. In this sense, farmers have fallback on tree foods that are resistant to drought and other climate extreme events. In some cases, farmers also grow trees as a mode saving that can be used during crisis period like the case of hunger, especially during low crop yielding seasons. In this sense, tree-based ecosystem offers valuable services that are instrumental to crop production and resilience to climate change (Liyama et al. 2018).
The careful selection, management of tree density, and best silvicultural practices of improved fallow and natural fallow species would address both soil fertility improvement and effective ecosystem functioning of various land use systems for improved crop and animal production, resulting in better food security and nutrition. This corroborates well with findings on farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) of Faidherbia albida and other leguminous trees in dryland parklands and woodlands that has resulted in increased production of staple crops like sorghum, millet, maize, etc. and improved dietary diversity (Kundhlande et al. 2017). For instance, in Niger, there was a policy shift that awarded tree tenure to farmers which resulted in strengthening of FMNR. This resulted in increasing area under agroforests to over 5 million ha (Vira et al. 2015a; Binam et al. 2015; Place and Binam 2013). Specifically, Binam et al. (2015) reported occurrence of diversified species with edible leaves and fruits that regenerated in the farmers’ fields. Some of these species included but are not limited to Strychnos spinosa, Balanites aegyptiaca, Ziziphus mauritiana, Adansonia digitata, and Vitellaria paradoxa. These species are important especially during drought period and more so the communities with limited choices of livelihoods. A study by Nero et al. (2018) concurred that species diversity enhances richness in food security and nutrition. In their study they found that 22 out of 70 woody species in Accra, Ghana, were edible, implying that urban communities also relied on tree foods for nutrition and other dietary needs. Some of these species included Mangifera indica, Elaeis guineensis, Carica papaya, Terminalia catappa, Moringa oleifera, etc. It was evident that some of the tree foods were consumed either directly or after being processed. Those that were taken directly included but not limited to fruit pulp, leaves, nuts, seeds, and juices like the case of coconut water. These were known to be rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, sodium, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese and iodine.
Equally, the establishment of woodlots has not only supplied required household woodfuel but also reduced deforestation, improved biodiversity, enhanced soil structure, reduced soil erosion, and improved soil fertility that have resulted in increased yield production at farm level. In this manner, trees and forests continue to offer very instrumental direct and indirect services in addressing hunger, food security, and nutrition. Studies undertaken in Asia, Africa, and Latin America on enhancing food security through forest landscape restoration showed that the provision of ecosystem services and crop production increased significantly due to better land management practices. Specifically, farmers associated changes in food availability, access, utilization, and stability with restoration of degraded forests and lands (Kumar et al. 2015). The restoration of degraded landscapes also had double effect, increasing food availability and enhancing resilience of landscapes and sources livelihoods in the face of climate change and variability. This correlated well with studies taken in Southern Africa that reported on the increased average yield due to planting of trees as green fertilizers that stabilized crop production during drought periods and climate variability events (Vira et al. 2015). Similarly, a study carried in Indonesia showed that areas with agroforestry practices, natural forests, and other vegetation covers were associated with high consumption of food rich in micronutrients (Ickowitz et al. 2016).
Challenges Associated with Tree-Based Systems in Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition
Deforestation and forest degradation
Gender considerations in tree-based systems
Low investment in research for forest and tree foods
Poor markets for forest and tree foods
Poor adoption of integrated soil fertility replenishment technologies
Quality germplasm for trees
Climate change and variability
There is overwhelming evidence that forest and tree resources are declining in various regions across the world over the past years due to various drivers of deforestation and forest degradation. This has resulted in declining supply of raw materials, diminishing of non-timber forest products, reduced income at household level, reduced crop yields, loss of genetic diversity, and prolonged droughts and other weather extreme events with devastating effects on various sources of livelihood. These effects have direct and indirect influence on food security and nutrition. For example, inadequate or lack of fuelwood will directly affect the quality of cooked food and its availability. This may result where fewer meals are cooked, processed, and supplied due to challenges associated with biomass energy, resulting in damaging effect on nutritional diversity to different groups of consumers. Similarly, scarcity of woodfuel results in the increased price of firewood or charcoal making it unaffordable to those who rely on it for food production and utilization. In this regard, those who are in food business such as fish smoking, processing of animal products, etc. using biomass energy would shift the cost of production to the consumer, making it expensive to afford, resulting in nutritional deficiency and thus food insecurity. Also scarcity of woodfuel may in some occasions force women and young people to walk for long distances to fetch firewood. This would directly affect the time available to prepare for enough food resulting in consumption of fast and poor-quality food. It will also affect women having quality time to engage in food production and other income-generating activities to enhance food security at household level.
Land tenure also remains a challenge to farmers interested in forest and tree foods. It’s a fact that land tenure rights are very important for any tree-based system, since trees are long-term investment. Farmers will be more interested to plant tree foods when assured of tenure and property rights. This remains an important motivational factor in tree planting and management in agroforestry systems (Dawson et al. 2013). The increased land fragmentation is also resulting in declining of forest and tree foods rich in nutrition due to competition of space for settlement and subsistence farming.
Government policies and laws are instrumental in promoting forest conservation, tree management, and utilization of better livelihoods and environmental sustainability. However, there exist instances where government policies may be punitive in access of quality germplasm to enhance tree planting for food and other sources of livelihood (Dawson et al. 2013). This has been viewed as a way of slowing down tree-based system for food security and nutrition. For instance, in Niger, the forest regulations that also affect FMNR agroforest system require that farmers need to obtain a prior permit before cutting or felling trees; failure of doing attracts hefty fines. This has resulted farmers to remove young trees from their land to avoid penalties based on such regulations (Binam et al. 2017). This in the long run would affect greening efforts of the Sahelian region. There are also instances where government policies are not “loud” enough on the use of green fertilizers but instead advocate for inorganic fertilizers. This has continued to be a disincentive to promotion of best agroforestry system aimed at improving soil organic matter for better crop production and access of tree foods. The government subsidy on inorganic fertilizers aimed at improving crop production makes use of improved fallows and natural regeneration less attractive and not interesting to small-scale farmers. This compounded with the perception that agroforestry is knowledge-intensive based on the technology promoted and household determinants like resource endowment and household size that have been identified as some of factors contributing to slow uptake of tree-based systems for food security and nutrition.
Low investment in research for forest and tree foods is also another constraint affecting promotion of forest and tree foods. This is evidenced with limited development of new tree lines, cultivars, and other varieties with high yielding potential, fast maturity, and high nutritive value. Underinvestment in these areas may still remain as a considerable limitation in wider use of such high valued tree foods. There is also inadequate number of scientist with specialist on forest and tree foods, which implies that there is limited information generated and shared to the general public. This demands for increased attention on indigenous trees for food in order to enhance diversity and nutritive diets for burgeoning population globally. Investment on technologies to support forest and tree foods will move toward closing this gap in order to promote integrated approaches on food security and nutrition. Tree-based system in this regard needs to take rightful role in profiling the direct and indirect contribution to availability, access, utilization, and stability of food with nutrient contents for better and healthy living of people.
Poor market for forest and tree foods is also another challenge affecting the provision of tree foods. Research has shown that there are no well-developed and structured markets for trading in forest and tree foods. This results in limited access and availability of food with high diversity of nutrients. Some of the limitations cited by producers include the absence of collective bargaining system, poor transport infrastructure, involvement of multiple intermediaries in supply chain, poor storage facilities for perishable fruits, inadequate value addition of the products, corruption, and cost of collection as compared to sale returns (Dawson et al. 2013). This demands for well-structured and developed markets to enhance accessibility of forest and tree foods.
The changes on climate as evidenced with increasing of temperature, precipitation, emerging of invasive species, sea-level rise, changes on hydrological cycles, and shifts of species resulting in loss of biological biodiversity are directly impacting food security and nutrition (Vira et al. 2015). This way, climate change has significant impacts on agricultural production and other land-based sectors that support food security and nutrition. The climate forecasts show that there will be a decrease in tree densities in parts of North Africa, changes in plant phenology and growth in Asia, as well as rise in tree mortality and forest fires in the Amazon. These negative impacts will directly affect the forest and tree foods that communities depend on not only for consumption but also for income generation to support other household requirements.
Policy-Based Interventions in Promoting Tree-Based System for Enhanced Food Security and Nutrition
Policies and other institutional frameworks remain important tools for proper management and governance of natural resources for any nation and her people. Effective policies usually address the social, economic, and environmental benefits in relation to the national aspirations and global initiatives (Dufour and Dod’e 2016). This implies that for tree-based system to deliver well on food security and nutrition, there must be a strong influence on policy to enhance adoption of tree foods and secure people from poverty and malnourishment. In this regard, active involvement of policy makers is paramount as they will provide policy incentives to farmers and other stakeholders’ engagement to promote forest and tree food systems. For instance, once policy makers are convinced on the importance of forest and tree foods, they would play a key role in ensuring access of quality germplasm of agroforestry trees to farmers. This will promote agroforestry technologies that are instrumental in improving soil fertility and crop production, enhancing access to biomass energy, and provision of environmental services such as increase of carbon sequestration to strengthen resilience of agricultural food production systems. This provides a window for scientists/researchers to document and share the findings from successful technologies to policy makers in order to accelerate adoption of forest and tree-based systems for enhanced availability, access, utilization, and stability of food resources. It has also advantage of increased investment in research so as to handle current issues on food, research for the future, and identifying suitable coping mechanism of food insecurity.
The other important role played by policy and laws is solving the land tenure and rights issue. The adoption of tree-based system for food and provision of other goods and services is often hindered by land and tree tenure rights. There exists evidence that farm dwellers have no tenure rights that are not long-term or permanent and they do not tend to plant tree foods and other long-term investment on farm. The negative impact of this tenure arrangement is that they would often rely on available forest and tree resources resulting in deforestation, forest degradation, depletion of soil nutrients, loss of natural habitat, and biodiversity. These negative effects would change the structure and composition of the forest and trees in provision of food and other essential goods and services. In such situation, suitable policies and laws sensitive to the needs of people and environment for the future generation need to be in place in order to ensure sustainable supply of timber and non-timber forest products for improved livelihood and environmental sustainability.
Studies have shown that conflicting policies tend to negatively affect food production (Rychetnik et al. 2003). This implies that in solving such policy-based challenges, an integrated approach on policy matters touching different sectors such as agriculture, forestry, manufacturing industry, and environment among others needs to be harmonized in order to solve the problem of food and nutritional security. This corroborates well with HLPE (2017) recommendation on the development and implementation of policies for integrated agriculture and forest management for improved and sustainable food security and nutrition. Specifically, this HLPE report stressed for the need to strengthen policy coherence across forestry, agriculture, water, energy, education, and other sectors at different scales, by reinforcing cross-sectoral coordination; provide institutional and financial requirements to integrate and implement resilience-enhancing dimensions of forests and trees into policies and programs; develop and promote participatory forest and tree policies and management planning and measures to enable access to nutritionally important forest foods, more so to forest adjacent communities; ensure access to and use of forest and tree resources and access to markets for forest-dependent communities and indigenous people; promote forest restoration of unproductive, abandoned degraded forest and deforested areas; and provide incentives for the provision of forest ecosystem services that benefit sustainable agriculture and food security and nutrition.
It’s also imperative that policy makers remain proactive in promoting policies that are friendly to the tree-based system investment and gender sensitive. For example, policies should be formulated that would enable smallholder farmers to access affordable credits, technologies, extension services, and insurances to mitigate against farming and marketing risks. Similar policies should be spearheaded to develop well-structured markets for forest and tree products and other ecosystem services that are critical in promoting food security and nutrition. In this manner, the role of forestry sector in the formulation and implementation of policies that address food security, nutrition, poverty reduction, and sustainable development would be profiled relative to other sectors of the economy. The realization of the role of the forestry sector in growth domestic product (GDP) may as well demand for the need to strengthen inter-sectoral partnerships and landscape approaches to enhance sustainable use of forests and tree resources for better lives.
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