Food from forests can help India’s food security

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: May 07, 2015 15:13 IST

Food from forests in India and elsewhere have much potential to address needs of nutrition and food security at a time when the limits of boosting agricultural production are becoming increasingly clear, a major report released on Wednesday said.

Bhaskar Vira, an expert based at the University of Cambridge and chair of the Global Forest Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, told HT that many fruits and other crops from Indian forests are yet to be recognised as food but could help address the needs of millions.

“India relies mostly on agriculture, but that is subject to vagaries of weather. Forests can complement the agriculture-based strategy. Most of the forest foods are not in commercial production systems, but can be vital with sustainable harvesting”, he said.

Vira added: “Forest foods often provide a safety net during periods of food shortages. In the study, we reveal impressive examples which show how forests and trees can complement agricultural production and contribute to the income of local people, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world.”

The report, titled ‘Forests, Trees and Landscapes for Food Security and Nutrition: A Global Assessment’, by the International Union of Forest Research Organisations, was released at a side event of the United Nations Forum on Forests in New York.

Comprising several examples and figures from India – including ‘jhum’ cultivation in the north-east – the report says that benefits of forests and trees to nutrition include the fact that tree foods are often rich in vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients and are associated with more diverse diets.

Vira said: “We need to recognise the valuable contribution of forests to food in India and elsewhere. What keeps people hungry is often not the lack of food, but the lack of access to that food and control over its production. We need to recognize claims over food sovereignty which give local people greater control over their food.”

Noting recent initiatives of the Narendra Modi government on the Forest Rights Act, he added: “Improved tenure rights and stronger rights for women who are becoming more and more responsible for food production from agricultural and forest lands are key to ensure the success of sustainable poverty reduction efforts.”

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