Forests can help mitigate climate change, ensure food security

Dr Rodel Lasco, Philippine Programme Coordinator of World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) delivering his presentation, at The Centrepoint Hotel in Gadong. Pictures: BT/Ubaidillah Masli

FORESTS will have a role to play in ensuring food security and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Amidst forecasts that the world could lose up to a quarter of its rice production over the next four decades, some Southeast Asian countries are expected to lose half their rice yields by 2100 "without adaptation" strategies.

"We know that about a billion people around the world are food-insecure, and that's about one-sixth of the global population (and) climate change will make the problem worse," Dr Rodel Lasco of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) said here recently.

He said that climate change will bring about food security implications in terms of lower and more variable agricultural yields and the uncertainty in water supply could make rice production "vulnerable", affecting overall food supply.

Estimates predict climate change impacts could lead to 27 per cent losses in irrigated rice production and about 12 per cent losses for rain-fed rice.

"Of course what we don't want to see is that a lot of these things will happen in our part of the world, in Southeast Asia. And as you know rice is a very important crop in our part of the world," Lasco said at an ASEAN seminar discussing issues relating to forests and forest products on July 4.

Citing a study by the Asian Development Bank, he said that Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam "could suffer half, or 50 per cent decline, of rice yields by 2100 without adaptation".

In light of this, the agroforestry expert stressed the role that natural forests as well as trees growing on agricultural lands had to play. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stated that forests and such trees serve as a "direct source of food and cash income" for more than a billion of the world's poorest people, he said.

"Forests provide people stable foods and supplemental foods such as fruits, edible leaves and nuts. For example, in Lao PDR, up to 80 per cent of the population rely on some kind of wild food," he said.

Lasco added that an estimated 2.6 billion people rely on wood as a fuel, such as charcoal for cooking.

Meanwhile, as about 2.4 billion people currently lived in "highly water-stressed areas", he said that climate change could compound this further by causing the world's irrigated water requirements to rise.

He pointed out that forests were known to improve the quality of water, regulate flow, reduce risk of extreme flooding events and prevent rivers from drying up during dry seasons.

"Again forest landscapes do play an important role in ensuring we get enough water and again, that has an impact on food security."

Therefore, he said proper management and sustainable use of natural resources would allow for both ecosystems and people to adapt to climate change.

There was a lot of interest currently in ecosystems-based adaptations, or EBA, which included a range of local- and landscape-scale strategies in managing ecosystems such as forests to reduce the vulnerability of the people, particularly the indigenous, to climate change.

Some EBA options included maintaining and restoring natural infrastructure and watershed vegetation such as mangrove forests; enhancing the availability of natural resources as sources of food and other products important to livelihood; supporting indigenous people and local communities to adapt to climate change; and maintaining connectivity of ecosystems as emphasised in protected area management.

"Climate change will affect our ability to put food on the table This is a message, we (forest officials) need to drum up and emphasise to our policy-makers forests ecosystems are very important in enhancing food security. Whether (it's) natural forests or even trees outside the forests, like in agroforestry systems, they do have an important role to play," Lasco said.

"I think this is one of the headline messages that we need to reach out not just to forest policy-makers but even to policy-makers in finance."

The Brunei Times

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