FAO’s State of the World’s Forests Calls for Positive Interactions Between Agriculture and Forestry

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It is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food. Promoting more positive interactions between agriculture and forestry can stop deforestation, build sustainable agricultural systems and improve food security. This is the key message of 'The State of the World's Forests' (SOFO), the flagship publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), presented at the opening of the 23rd session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).

Focusing on 'Forests and Agriculture: Land-use Challenges and Opportunities,' the 2016 SOFO explores the challenges and opportunities presented by the complex interrelationship among forests, agriculture and sustainable development. It demonstrates that the sustainable management of both forests and agriculture, and their integration in land-use plans, is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ensuring food security and tackling climate change. The report presents case studies demonstrating that some countries have reconciled the aspirations of the different sectors, increasing the agricultural productivity and food security of their populations while halting and even reversing deforestation. It argues that integrated, participatory land-use planning provides an essential strategic framework for balancing land uses.

The report highlights the importance of achieving sustainable agriculture and food security, and of halting deforestation in the context of SDG 2 on zero hunger, SDG 15 on life on land, as well as other SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate change. It analyzes trends in land-use change, focusing on the loss of forests through conversion to agriculture and gains in forest area on land previously used for agriculture, drawing attention to significant regional variations. It provides an overview of the ways in which countries address land-use change from forest to agriculture, and vice versa, for example in national policies, legal frameworks, investments in agriculture and forestry, and institutional mechanisms.

FAO identifies an increasing need for countries to address land-use change in national policies, including in light of recent international agreements, and highlights the importance of formally recognizing traditional rights based on customary tenure, especially for vulnerable and forest-dependent people. The analysis demonstrates the importance of integrated land-use planning and participatory approaches using tools such as land capability assessments, and taking the views of stakeholders fully into account. Case studies from Chile, Costa Rica, the Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Tunisia and Viet Nam demonstrate the opportunities for improving food security while increasing or maintaining forest cover, and confirm the importance of integrated land-use approaches at the national, landscape and local levels. Examples of such approaches include land-use master plans; collaboration between agricultural and forest research institutes and extension services; watershed management; and agroforestry systems.

SOFO makes several recommendations for approaches that countries can adopt, assisted by the international community, to better integrate forests and agriculture while increasing food security and reducing forest loss. These include: the need for concurrent public investment in sustainable agriculture and sustainable forest management (SFM) as part of wider rural development programmes; using appropriate and targeted policy instruments to reflect the circumstances; developing a legal framework that provides certainty on land tenure and the rights to the use of land and forest resources; strengthening institutions and stakeholder and community engagement; promoting integrated land-use approaches and landscape management; and providing more comprehensive information to inform evidence-based decisions.

COFO, the highest FAO statutory body on forestry, is meeting from 18-22 July 2016, at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy. For the fifth time, it is held in conjunction with World Forest Week, a series of meetings and events sponsored by FAO and partner organizations and institutions aiming at sharing state-of-the-art knowledge and achievements. [Publication: State of the World's Forests 2016: Forests and Agriculture: Land-Use Challenges and Opportunities] [FAO Press Release] [COFO 23 Webpage] [COFO 23 Webcasting] [inFO news issue 41, 2016] [UNFCCC Press Release]

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