Food loss and waste in forest ecosystems Forests play an essential role in feeding the world’s population. More than 410 million people are directly dependent on forests for food supplements. In addition to providing food directly they play an indirect role by delivering ecosystem services that other food provisioning ecosystems depend on, including carbon sequestration, water recycling and soil fertility improvement. Historically, forests have been cleared to make way for agriculture. Currently there is a net loss of 5.2 million hectares of forest every year. Deforestation reduces the planet’s capacity to produce food in the long-term as important services such as habitat for pollinators and soil fertility improvement provided by forests are lost. A shift towards ecosystem-based management approaches that recognize the role of forests in food security is necessary to ensure that forests will be part of the long-term solution for feeding the world’s growing population.
Forests for food security As one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, forests are central to the survival of many people. According to UNEP (2011a), more than 410 million people are highly dependent on forests for their livelihood and for food supplements, especially the rural poor in developing countries. About 60 million indigenous people who live in forests are directly dependent on the health of the ecosystem and the services it provides (FAO 2012a). The value of extracted non-wood forest products in 2005 was estimated at US$18.5 billion of which the majority came from edible products (MA 2005). Forests provide a wide variety of food items such as fruits, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, roots, tubers, leaves, honey, wild animals, birds and insects. For many, especially indigenous and low-income groups living in or nearby forests, these food items constitute a significant part of their diet (FAO 2011a; Sunderland et al. 2013). Bush-meat is the main source of protein for the rural poor in the Amazon Basin while over 4.5 million tonnes of bush- meat are extracted each year from the Congo Basin for both rural and urban dwellers (Nasi et al. 2011). Forests also provide valuable feed for livestock in developing countries, enhancing the quality and quantity of milk and meat (FAO 2011a). In poor communities, diets are often high in cereals, which lack vitamins and proteins that are crucial for a healthy life. Nutrient- rich food from the forest is therefore important for children (Sunderland et al. 2013). Nutrients from forest products include minerals and vitamins from fruits, carbohydrates from roots and oils and proteins from nuts and seeds (FAO 2011a). Insects, commonly collected in forests in Africa, Latin America and Asia, are also nutrient-rich food. According to van Huis et al. (2013) about 2 billion people eat insects regularly. Mealworms, for example, are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals with comparable levels to that of fish and meat.
Collecting and selling forest food items aswell as other non-wood forest products is a common income-generating activity in many developing countries (FAO 2012a). For rural poor, forests serve as vital safety nets during periods of food shortages or low incomes (FAO 2011a). In Ethiopia, beekeeping and honey production from wild honeybees is a central element of rural livelihoods. The beekeepers use honey as a dietary supplement as well as an income generating strategy (Kebede and Lemma 2007). State of the world’s forests Ten thousand years ago forests covered 6 billion hectares of land. However by 2010 the world’s forests had been reduced to about 4 billion hectares, or approximately 31 per cent of the Earth’s land cover. In spite of improvements in recent years, an alarming 13 million hectares of forest is lost each year