Agrifood systems with forests key to avoiding environmental risks

Agrifood systems with forests key to avoiding environmental risks

To achieve sustainable development, it is essential that agriculture and forestry be part of a coordinated approach to solving the global challenges of hunger, climate change and biodiversity loss, according to participants in a digital forum focused on transforming agrifood systems with forests.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) hosted the forum as a curtain-raiser to the Twenty-sixth Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry and the eighth World Forest Week, which take place from 3 to 7 October 2022.

The FAO-GLF digital forum attracted more than 2,000 registered participants from 120 countries and featured more than two dozen speakers, including FAO experts; parliamentarians; forestry practitioners; scientists; civil society organizations and private sector leaders.

The event took place against the backdrop of commitments announced last November at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, United Kingdom, to end deforestation by 2030 and accelerate the shift to sustainable agriculture and land use in order to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“We are now at a transformational moment, with only a few years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “Using a Titanic analogy, the captain had only one minute to make a decision to shift the course of the ship before it hit the iceberg. We are in the same situation: If we don’t take the right action now, we are going to hit the iceberg.”

Tiina Vähänen, Deputy Director, FAO Forestry Division, said: “No matter the crisis we face, we must consider our forests and our natural resources as part of the solution in transforming our agrifood systems to become more sustainable.”

Agriculture and forests are deeply interconnected. Farmers in many rural areas work in both sectors, while around 40 percent of all agricultural lands have more than 10 percent tree cover, according to the FAO. Forests and trees also deliver vital ecosystem services for agriculture by regulating the water cycle, protecting the soil, providing a habitat for pollinators, and offering shade and shelter for people and livestock.

The opening discussion offered regional perspectives from Tanzania and Lebanon, a perspective on behalf of youth farmers in the Philippines and an intervention from the co-chair of the upcoming International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists on the role of forestry in sustainable and resilient agrifood systems.

Abbas Hajj Hassan, Lebanon’s agriculture minister, emphasized the importance of reviewing the regulations and laws to support restoration initiatives through grazing in forests and strengthening the relations between forest and herders to avoid degradation and conflict. Pindi H. Chana, Tanzania’s minister for natural resources and tourism, outlined her country’s participatory and benefit-sharing approach through the transfer of forest management to local people.

“Local communities who have lived in forest areas for generations hold a wealth of knowledge on the local environment and its management,” said Chana. “Tanzania has focused on making them actors in forest management, rather than beneficiaries, utilizing their knowledge and creating a vital sense of ownership.”

This session also included the launch of the FAO report “Grazing with trees,” which assesses the positive role that extensive grazing – the predominant form of land-use on at least a quarter of the world’s land surface, in which livestock are raised on food that comes mainly from rangelands – can play in managing and restoring dryland forests and land with trees.

During the second session, the policy brief “What have we learned from trees? Three decades of farmer field schools on agroforestry and forestry” was launched.

Over the past three decades, farmer field schools around the world have been an effective way to help rural populations innovate with more clarity and purpose, while building the social skills needed for rural transformation and empowerment.

The session demonstrated the mutual benefit of livestock and trees in Tunisia’s rangelands; the value of skills-based education in Pakistan to enhance farmers’ understanding of climate-smart agriculture; the importance of diverse pollinators in Argentina’s agroecosystems; and the role of women in improving diets through agroforestry in Mali.

“Women have been instrumental not only in using seeds for different trees but also in the creation of processing cooperatives, which have really helped create the conditions to improve diets, including food for children,” said Mamadou Goïta, executive director of the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD) in Mali.

An estimated 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through deforestation – mainly to clear land for agriculture – since 1990, according to the Global Forest Resources Assessment. Meanwhile, the USD 540 billion paid annually in agricultural support to producers is heavily biased toward measures that distort prices while harming the environment and human health, according to the State of the World’s Forests report in 2022.

As such, the third session focused on decoupling agricultural production from deforestation and launched a paper on governments’ role in halting deforestation from agricultural value chains.

Public- and private-sector pledges need to be scaled up to manage trade-offs between agriculture and forestry, while eliminating deforestation from supply chains, participants said.

“We are now living in a tide of commitments that started a while ago, but there is an increasing need to turn these commitments into action. Governments are key to turning these commitments into reality, including by boosting and facilitating collaboration and synergies with other stakeholders,” said Serena Fortuna, team leader in FAO’s REDD+ program.

The session also examined independent certification for deforestation-free criteria; “feebates” as taxation for unsustainable commodities; and a new multi-regional input-output (MRIO) database to calculate nations’ supply-chain footprint, which Maria Jose Sanz illustrated through Ghanaian cocoa croplands used to make Belgian chocolate for consumption in Japan.

The final session, moderated by Julian Fox, covered ways to improve decision-making by using better data and the latest monitoring tools. WRI’s Laura Vary provided an overview of the Forest Data Partnership, which harnesses the expertise of WRI, Unilever, Google, NASA and the FAO to provide reliable and accessible data on forests and lands to reduce commodity driven deforestation and catalyze restoration.

Yelena Finegold presented the Framework for Ecosystem Restoration Monitoring (FERM) as the overarching monitoring platform for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and Christophe Besacier launched the integration of good restoration practices into the FERM Registry, providing an integrated technical solution for monitoring and following good practices for restoration. Karis Tenneson of the Spatial Informatics Group gave a presentation on Se.plan, an open-source tool for forest restoration planning, showing its use in the central highlands of Vietnam, while René Zamora-Cristales of the World Resources Institute (WRI) introduced the Aurora app that helps set up systems for monitoring restoration initiatives.

“Data is vital in the sustainable management of forests and is essential to tackling the deforestation crisis and to accelerating restoration,” said Vary. “Advances in technology offer unprecedented opportunities to transform the way landscapes are monitored and managed.”

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