Forests for Food – Food for Forests

GREEN FOOD. Every year the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the Food and Agricultural Organization celebrate the International Day of Forests in order to raise awareness on the role of forests in our society.

Each year we choose a special theme to demonstrate how closely the forests are linked to different areas of our lives and to various sectors of the economy. This year’s International Day of Forests will emphasize the synergies between the forestry sector and the food industry under the theme “Forests for Food – Food for Forests”.

Why forests and why food?

With a growing global population, much of the current discourse on food security is focused on increasing and expanding agricultural production at the expense of natural ecosystems. However, some studies suggest that we already grow enough food to feed the whole planet, and that food scarcity is primarily caused by inadequate distribution, a lack of purchasing power and other non-productive causes.

Nonetheless, forest ecosystems are still particularly affected by agricultural expansion. The exponential increase of such practices not only leads to a decline in the global forested area, but has detrimental and far-reaching consequences. It has a direct impact on soils, air, water cycle, biodiversity and finally on the CO2 sequestration potential, thus decreasing the mitigating effect on climate change. Furthermore, the expansion of cultivated areas reduces forests and tree-based agricultural systems that contribute to the livelihoods of a large part of the world population.

The expansion of large-scale food production mainly occurs in the tropical regions and does not affect the pan-European region directly. However, extensive agricultural expansion is often connected to trade policies and demand-driven businesses from the pan-European region.

With the issue of food security and nutrition high on the UN agenda, as well as in political and scientific circles, it is crucial to explore how the forests can contribute to a food secure and nutrition-sensitive world. Forests play an important role in this area through their abundant supply of berries, forest fruits, mushrooms, nuts, honey, herbs, leaves, saps, oils, syrups, fish, wild game, etc. They also provide enormous benefits by protecting soils, mitigating floods, purifying water and conserving biodiversity. Forests also serve as a source of inspiration for the world-renowned chefs and the gastronomic industry.

Many players from the food industry have already adopted sustainable business practices committing themselves to reversing deforestation, using forest products in a sustainable way, while enhancing food security and generating economic benefits. The gastronomic sector is also shifting its focus to more traditional and natural flavours and products.

What do we hope to achieve with this event?

The purpose for choosing the topic of “Forests for Food – Food for Forests” is to explore the link between the forestry sector and the food industry, which is often overlooked. We also wish to use this opportunity to be mindful of our eating habits, promote a more conscious food culture and aim to raise awareness on the socio-economic, cultural and environmental benefits of forests, non-wood forest products, and food in particular.

The social and cultural benefits of forests will be highlighted through the connection between forests, food and gastronomy and draw upon traditions, cultural practices and the everlasting heritage transferred from one generation to the other. The benefits of forest ecosystem services will be emphasized through the role forests play in maintaining soil, water and air quality. And finally the links between forests and food will showcase that incorporating sustainable business principles into forest-related food production can generate socio-economic benefits, jobs and profits. All these aspects will help people to better understand the multiple values of forests.

The cross-sectoral nature of the event will bring together a great number of key experts from the forestry sector, food and beverage industry, gastronomy, academia, international organizations, NGOs, press and media.

The theme “Forests for Food – Food for Forests” is especially timely, as it is in line with the theme of EXPO2015 “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. The year 2015 will also be crucial for determining the future of our forests, as EXPO 2015 will be followed by the Post-2015 Development Agenda Summit in September and Silva2015 together with the Third European Forest Week in Engelberg in November with the main focus on the “Value of Forests”.

Palais des Nation, Geneva 20 March 2015. A UNOC-UNECE-FAO initiative

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