Q+A in Doha: Meeting food needs while protecting forests

DOHA, Qatar (2 December, 2012)_As the world struggles to feed a growing population without expanding into forests and scrubland, poliycmakers need to consider making more efficient use of land and relocating agriculture to non-forest or degraded landscapes, scientists say.

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Conserving forests as agriculture expands is one of the main challenges in addressing the food needs of a growing global population. Neil Palmer (CIAT).

DOHA, Qatar (2 December, 2012)_As the world struggles to feed a growing population without expanding into forests and scrubland, poliycmakers need to consider making more efficient use of land and relocating agriculture to non-forest or degraded landscapes, scientists say.

Deborah Bossio from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Lini Wollenberg from the University of Vermont and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), spoke with Forests News on the sidelines of the U.N. Climate talks in Doha, Qatar.

While there are many ways to work towards a balance between food security conservation, they say, support from policy makers is needed to increase momentum.

Q: How hard it is going to be to conserve  forests as we expand agriculture to address the food needs of a growing global population?

A: There are a number of different approaches that can be used to meet food needs while protecting forests. By intensifying agriculture, we can use land more efficiently for productivity. For example, for livestock that would mean utilising intensive pasture, stall-fed or confinement operations.

We can also create multifunctional forest or agroforest landscapes, where agriculture and forestry co-exist. Or we can relocate agriculture to non-forest landscapes – however, these may be degraded areas that will require higher cost investment. If we take this path, we also need to recognise that these other landscapes, like the Cerrado savannah in Brazil, may have a biodiversity value of their own.

Q: What strategies or techniques should be considered in trying to reach this goal?

A: We must recognise that agriculture and forestry markets often build off each other (for example, commercial logging occurs and then agriculture moves in), so we absolutely need to deal with both sectors in an integrated way. Ultimately, it all comes down to “market governance” and other policy mechanisms.

It is also important to examine carefully whether it is actually food production that needs to increase to address food security, or whether it is other aspects of the food system that need to change, such as access, distribution, waste, and consumption of food.

Plus, many crops are planted that are not food crops, so society will need to make policy choices between food versus income crops (e.g. coffee, tea) or energy crops.

Q: Will the intensification of agriculture really provide solutions to these challenges?

A: Intensification potentially allows higher yields from the land, but on its own it does not ensure that forest conversion will not occur in a specific area. Hence, at large scales (i.e. globally), land sparing effects are evident over long time periods. But at the local scale, increased efficiency often leads to increased conversion, especially for market-driven crops or livestock, unless other checks, sanctions or incentives are in place and enforced. Those other mechanisms include land tenure, land use plans, sustainability standards and so on. They generally work better when multiple mechanisms are used, they are closer to the producer level and have accountability mechanisms. Brazil, for example, seems to be making progress with jurisdictional approaches at the national and state levels.

We also need to acknowledge the limits to intensification, especially given current levels of resource degradation and fragile environments (e.g. grassland soils) that are facing climate change risks and other threats.

Q: What are the most urgent steps that international decision makers need to take on this?

A: Action will need to differ depending on the state of individual countries’ governance capabilities and the commodity market drivers in different countries. So there is a need to identify where the threats (market forces) and the opportunities (good governance) are both high. Then we should start work within those specific contexts.

Incentives and accountability measures should also be created for commodity sustainability measures that address forest conversion, through information campaigns for consumers and national investment screening.

REDD+ (the UN-backed scheme to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation) must be supported to address sustainable agricultural development. National policy measures also need support to redirect agricultural development. We also need to boost bridging programs and institutions that link forestry and agriculture with monitoring and policy.

Deborah Bossio was the keynote speaker at Forests on a Cultivated Planet held at Forest Day 6 in Doha, Qatar on the sidelines of the UNFCCC COP18.

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Topic(s) :   Food security Food & diets