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How to produce more food without turning forests into fields

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By Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director, Forestry Division, and Serena Fortuna, Senior Forestry Officer, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

As the world’s population grows, we should need up to 50% more food by 2050 than we needed in 2012. We face an enormous challenge to feed the world while protecting our forests from agricultural expansion, which is pushing nearly 90 percent of deforestation in the world.

Yet this challenge presents a huge opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. It is possible to transform the global food system so that agriculture and forests both grow, rather than one growing at the expense of the other. It is possible, indeed essential, that agriculture and forests are mutually beneficial, not mutually exclusive.

If we switch to this way of thinking and operating – on a global scale – the result will be a sustainable food system that will go a long way towards fighting climate change, maintaining biodiversity and boosting the global economy. If we don’t, the outlook is bleak.

So how do we do this?

At this critical time, a new document from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Halting the deforestation of agricultural value chains: the role of governments, assesses progress made and outlines what remains to be done.

Governments have a crucial role to play, including by creating the conditions that enable the changes needed on a scale that will make a difference.

Consumer countries have already taken steps, such as setting import standards for agricultural products, earmarking funds to support smallholder farmers in producing countries, and committing funds for supply chains. more sustainable agriculture.

Producing countries are implementing a range of strategies ranging from land use planning to more forest-friendly agricultural practices and payments for ecosystem services. Global initiatives such as REDD+ helping many producing countries achieve meaningful results, halting deforestation, driving transformational change and unlocking climate finance for future reinvestments. FAO, in particular through a UN-REDD partnership, supports developing countries in their REDD+ process and in translating their commitments into action on the ground.

Yet far greater coordination is needed between consumer and producer countries to create truly transformative agri-food systems capable of producing more food – ensuring food security and nutrition for a growing population – without converting forests to fields.

Governments around the world must ensure this coordination so that different sectors and stakeholders at all levels – international, national, regional and local – work towards common goals. Governments should create the legislative frameworks and provide financing and market conditions that favor approaches based on the synergies between forestry and agriculture. Decision-makers need to approach trade-offs in a way that is mutually supportive.

The private sector has committed to eliminating deforestation from its supply chains, including through the New York Declaration on Forests in 2014. Industry standards and certification systems have since been put in place to target a zero net “deforestation footprint” for products such as beef. , palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and others. However, increased efforts to implement these commitments are necessary for concrete progress.

At the same time, growers – most of whom are in tropical and subtropical countries – struggle to meet these standards because they require huge changes on the ground. Switching to more sustainable farming methods often involves an initial investment in new equipment, a period of education and training, and changes in crops and land use during which the usual harvests on which livelihoods often depend are missed. The process of obtaining certification itself, once new processes are in place, can also be extremely time-consuming and expensive.

small farmerswhich produce 35 percent of the world’s food but often live in poverty, need much more support to overcome these barriers.

Producing countries – where the vast majority of deforestation takes place – face the greatest challenges in bringing about the necessary changes. They face a daily balancing act between their commitments to international deforestation and climate change goals and their need to ensure food security and livelihoods for their populations.

Yet they must develop policies that address the underlying causes of unsustainable agricultural practices, strengthen governance and improve law enforcement. And they must ensure that agricultural and forestry data is up-to-date, open, transparent and accessible.

Consumer countries and the private sector must step up their efforts to support the countries that produce our food, because they need much more financial and technical support to do so in a way that saves our planet.

This article was first published by Bangkok Post.


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