Protected areas, people and food security

An FAO contribution to the World Parks Congress

The inter-relationships between people and protected areas

Satisfying humans’ basic need for food puts enormous pressure on the environment. One of the key challenges facing the world today is how to meet the need for sufficient, safe and nutritious food without exhausting the resources available. While undernourishment is down from 1 billion people in 1992 to 805 million today (a fall of more than 17 percent in slightly more than 20 years), about one in nine people still suffers from chronic hunger, and about 162 million children under the age of five are stunted due to chronic malnutrition. This is unacceptable. In the words of FAO’s Director-General, “when it comes to hunger, the only acceptable number is zero!”

Protected areas have an important role to play in rising to this challenge. At a global level, millions of people depend on protected areas as a means of subsistence. In some cases they benefit directly, through the consumption of food produced or obtained in or around protected areas. In others, employment and income provide indirect benefits which contribute to sustaining livelihoods. The benefits of protected areas extend far beyond their immediate environs. These areas serve as natural gardens, safeguarding and cultivating biodiversity, including the wild plant relatives of crops. The biodiversity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems has provided food, including fish, plants, seeds, honey, fruits, mushrooms and insects, as important components of the diets of local inhabitants for thousands of years. Protected areas also provide ecosystem services, such as pollination and pest control, with mountain areas playing a special role through their contribution to clean water and decreased disaster risks.

This paper aims to give a broad overview of the inter-relationships between people and protected areas, and how these areas can be managed to ensure that their benefits are sustained for future generations. It approaches the subject from a range of perspectives including agriculture and agroecology, heritage sites and systems, tenure rights and governance, sustainable use and conservation of genetic resources, use and management of terrestrial and aquatic resources, water and watershed management, sustainable financing systems, and restoration and landscape approaches.

In so doing, it draws upon the first International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition  held in May 2013 by FAO, in partnership with Bioversity International, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the World Bank.

This paper seeks to carry forward the Conference’s five policy recommendations and expand their scope to encompass food security and nutrition in protected areas:

  1. Provide secure land and forest tenure and equitable access to resources by applying the principles outlined in the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security.
  2. Develop mechanisms for coordination across the agricultural, forestry, livestock, fisheries, energy, mining and other relevant sectors to ensure stronger coherence of food security and nutrition interventions and better policy alignment.
  3. Promote policies that increase access by smallholders to credit, technology, extension services and insurance, as well as to markets for their forest and tree products and ecosystem services.
  4. Achieve gender equality in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of food-security, nutrition and poverty-alleviation policies and investment strategies.
  5. Strengthen mechanisms for the collection and timely dissemination of data on the contribution of forests and trees to food security and nutrition for use in policy-making.

The debate and outcomes of the World Parks Congress concerning protected areas, food security, nutrition and livelihoods – especially through its Stream 4, “Supporting Human Life” – will feed into other fora where stakeholders and policymakers will be able to further advance knowledge-sharing and understanding on the theme, including at the upcoming World Forestry Congress being organized by the Government of South Africa and FAO in Durban from 7 to 11 September 2015.