Why forests

Food Security

Forests sustain us. It may come as a shock that 50% of packaged food sold in our supermarkets can be traced to commodities grown on land cleared of rainforests in the last two decades – like beef, soy, palm oil, coffee, and cocoa1.

But forests provide life-giving ecosystem services that sustain how food is grown around the world .

Our global food security relies on protecting natural landscapes and using them in a more productive, sustainable way. We need a new model that protects rainforests, makes supply chains more transparent, and provides a good livelihood for farmers and families. That’s the kind of food security we want to see in the future.

Eating from the forest

Around 150 million indigenous people live within or close to dense forest and depend almost entirely on them for food2.

The stunning biodiversity of tropical forests provides a nutritional bounty for these communities who hunt bushmeat and gather nuts, fruits and shoots. Learn more about indigenous people and their way of life in the forest here.

An agricultural safeguard

More than being a direct source of food for forest-dwelling people, forests safeguard the ecosystem services needed for growing food to feed our growing global population. Forests actually pump water around our planet which falls as rain on the world’s bread baskets. Trees fix nutrients into the soil, cycle water and prevent erosion. Many farmers’ crops are pollinated by forest insects, like bees.

All this shows that forests aren’t just a nice-to-have landscape, beautiful but nonessential. They are a living, breathing, giving world that everyone depends on for our food supply. And when we use our land poorly and don’t have our forests, agricultural production goes down.

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Agriculture driving deforestation

Unfortunately, some agricultural companies know the cheapest place to grow more food for our expanding population is in these fertile ecosystems where things grow quickly. But this is for short term gain. And is destroying our long-term ability for a food secure world.

Subsistence ‘slash and burn agriculture’ for local peoples’ survival is also a leading cause of rainforest destruction. But our global demand for four commodities – beef, soy, paper and pulp, and palm oil –  is where a huge part of the pressure comes from3. It’s fueled by our hunger for soya, to feed cattle, chickens and pigs as a high protein food; palm oil as a cooking oil or for cakes and ice cream; cocoa for chocolate and coffee and alongside beef as well as leather for shoes or car seats.

But it’s complicated, because many poor countries are using agricultural exports to get their populations out of poverty. Yet these policies are dangerous unless they are managed sustainably.

The agroforestry solution

This predicament is increasingly recognized – that trees and forests can actually improve production! Agroforestry, which is the integration of crop growing and trees, is on the rise. Trees planted alongside farmed fields help to stabilise these landscapes and increase soil fertility. For example:

  • In Zambia, increased tree cover and conservation farming doubled maize yields4
  • In Niger, planting nitrogen-fixing trees among crops increased sorghum yields by 20-85% and millet yields by 15-50%5 and enhanced drought resilience
  • In Colombia, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, integrating trees on their farms helped ranchers decrease soil erosion by 88%, increase average milk productivity by 18%, and increase net income per hectare by 55%6

Case Study: Agroforestry in Guatemala

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Lychee fruit grown in agroforestry systems on the Guatemalan Caribbean project

Our projects work with local people to build capacity in agroforestry systems to produce fair trade, organic coffee and cacao and other products. Our Guatemalan Caribbean project is in a biodiversity hotspot. Yet unbelievably, 65% of the original forest cover had been lost to cattle ranching, banana and palm oil plantations, and small-scale subsistence agriculture.

Fundaeco, our local NGO partner on the ground, is working with 3,250 families to develop sustainable, alternative livelihoods to prevent forest destruction. Sustainable agroforestry systems growing crops such as xate (a type of palm), rambutan (a fruit), lychee (a fruit), and cardamom (a spice) are being developed in 1,071 hectares of degraded forest to restore the land.

Read more about the Guatemalan Caribbean project here.

A new food system

Did you know that the value of exports of the four biggest commodities that cause deforestation is around $135 billion each year7? Loans and investments to the 250 largest companies in this field is estimated to be a staggering $2.8 trillion8. Yet, all governments can muster through grants and international aid to fight deforestation, is some $1.1 billion per year9. Little wonder that forests fall in the face of the huge market capital deployed against them!

We need a new food system, that provides real food security for all, delivers resilient and sustainable livelihoods for farmers and protects our natural capital.

Governments, companies and investors all need to work together to create public-private-people partnerships that can deliver food sustainably across the world. Consumers too have a role to play too, by being aware of what they eat and the impacts this can have not only on their own health, but also that of the planet.

Here’s where you can make a difference.

Make change happen

We have seen that forest destruction is in large part down to market forces and economics. So at Ecosphere+, we believe in using these forces to save forests and the magnificent power they have, not to destroy them. We do this through giving local communities a reason to keep their trees standing and to manage their landscapes sustainably, by creating a new relationship between food production and the forest.

It is our passion to develop sustainable land use in the beautiful tropical rainforests of our world. If you care that the food you eat isn’t destroying the Amazon and want to make a difference, we invite you to join us!

Find out more about the work we do all over the world.

Helping to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger
Sustainable Development Goal 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production

[1] Global Canopy Programme (2013) The Little Book of Big Deforestation Drivers: 24 Catalysts to Reduce Tropical Deforestation From ‘Forest Risk Commodities’

[2] World Bank (March 16, 2016) Enhance Livelihoods of Forest Communities. Accessed March 16, 2017

[3] Union of Concerned Scientists (2011) The Root of the Problem – Drivers of Deforestation

[4] World Bank (2016) Forests create jobs and wealth

[5] World Bank (2016) Forests slow climate change and increase resilience

[6] World Bank (2016) Forests slow climate change and increase resilience

[7] The Global Canopy Programme (November 18, 2015) New Analysis and Ranking: c. $135 Billion Export Trade in Forest Risk Commodities Continues to Destroy Rainforests. Accessed March 17, 2017

[8] Forest 500 (2016) Sleeping giants of deforestation: the companies, countries and financial institutions with the power to save forests.

[9] Global Canopy Programme (2013) The Little Book of Big Deforestation Drivers: 24 Catalysts to Reduce Tropical Deforestation From ‘Forest Risk Commodities’