We Don't Need To Cut Down Forests To Produce More Food, Says UN Report


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

Deforestation is not necessary to produce more food. Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Collaborations between farming and forestry sectors can help improve social and economic outcomes, including more food security, a new report from the UN suggests.

The State of the World’s Forest (SOFO) report is produced every two years by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to provide data to help inform national policy-makers. And the latest report says there is an urgent need to promote more interaction between forest management and farming to create sustainable agriculture systems, which will, in turn, provide more food security.


The main cause of deforestation is agriculture. The report shows the greatest net loss of forest between 2000 and 2010 was in low-income countries with rural populations on the increase. In the tropics, commercial farming is responsible for about 40 percent of forest conversion, with subsistence farming claiming 33 percent and the remaining 27 percent due to urban growth, infrastructure expansion, and mining.

This does vary regionally, however. In Latin America, large-scale commercial agriculture accounts for 70 percent of deforestation, while in Africa it only accounts for one-third as small-scale agriculture is the main cause of deforestation.

The report emphasizes that forests serve vital ecological functions that benefit sustainable agriculture and, therefore, the food production industry. They stabilize soil and climate, regulate water flow, and provide shade, shelter and habitats for pollinators and natural predators of agricultural pests. As FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva says in the report’s introduction: “When integrated judiciously into agricultural landscapes, forests and trees can therefore increase agricultural productivity.”

The report goes on to explain that “Integrated land-use planning provides an essential strategic framework for balancing land uses. Importantly, such planning processes must be participatory – because it is farmers and other rural people who must ultimately put the plans into practice, and will do so only if they meet their needs and interests.”


According to SOFO, since 1990, 20 countries, including Chile, Costa Rica, Tunisia, and Vietnam, have succeeded in improving national levels of food security while simultaneously either maintaining or increasing forest cover. Their success relied on secure land tenure, clear legal frameworks, clear responsibilities of the land by both government and local communities, and policy incentives to encourage sustainable forestry and farming.

"Food security can be achieved through agricultural intensification and other measures such as social protection, rather than through the expansion of agricultural areas at the expense of forests," said Eva Müller, Director of FAO's Forestry Policy and Resources Division at the Committee on Forestry in Rome.

According to Graziano da Silva, the findings of the report are conclusive: "The key message from SOFO is clear: it is not necessary to cut down forests to produce more food."


  • tag
  • agriculture,

  • farming,

  • deforestation,

  • Food security,

  • forest management,

  • sustainable agriculture