So…Does Agroforestry Contribute to Food Security?

Dietary adequacy requires sufficient intake of both macronutrients (energy, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). The Green Revolution drove a global increase in production in just a few crop species, ultimately leading to a decrease in macronutrient deficiencies, but not necessarily micronutrient deficiencies. While 795 million people are estimated to be undernourished, around 2 billion people experience one or more micronutrient deficiencies. Micronutrient deficiencies are linked to low agrobiodiversity, low dietary diversity, increasing consumption of poor quality processed foods, and lack of education regarding nutrition. Malnutrition, including obesity, is the single largest contributor to the global burden of disease.

Figure 1: Diagram showing factors that influence the four components of food security in farmers. Source: produced by author.

Ongoing climate change, population growth, depleting agricultural inputs, depleting soil resources, changing diets, and limited land resources are increasingly putting pressure on modern intensive agricultural practices that focus on a few species. These pressures highlight the need to increase production of under-researched crop species and agricultural systems that require minimal input, have increased climatic resilience, are less environmentally damaging, can make use of marginal land, and can improve or maintain production in the long-term.

Diverse food systems can support a multifunctional landscape approach that combines improved food production, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem service provision, and improved agroecosystem stability and resilience. Agroforestry systems, are perhaps the most poignant examples of diverse food systems, and, thus, a useful point of entry for achieving sustainable food security.

Agroforestry can increase food availability by (1) directly providing tree foods (e.g. fruits and leafy vegetables) for increased macronutrient and micronutrient intake, (2) supporting staple crop production, (3) increasing farmers’ incomes through the sale of tree products and surplus staple crops, and (4) supporting various ecosystem services (e.g. pollination) that are essential for the productivity of certain crops. It can reduce problems associated with food accessibility by providing scarce products that are usually restricted by market access. It can improve food utilisation by (1) providing fuelwood for cooking, (2) reducing the need for harmful pesticides and herbicides that affect food safety, and (3) potentially reduce micronutrient deficiencies that cause diseases which affect the ability to consume or efficiently use food and nutrients, or obtain a steady income. It can increase food stability by (1) providing food from different species during periods of food scarcity, (2) ensuring consistent income through product diversification, and reducing the risks of focusing on one or few crops, (3) maintaining soil structure and soil fertility for long-term productivity, and 4) improving resilience to climate change induced shocks.

The ability of agroforestry to contribute to food security is widely claimed, but extensive reviews, regional overviews, long-term studies, and studies that explore the contribution of agroforestry to multiple aspects of food security are lacking. My study aimed to bridge some of this gap, providing an overview of the current knowledge surrounding the contribution of agroforestry to food security in West Java. The study revealed that agroforestry does contribute to food security in West Java, but the extent to which it contributes to different aspects of food security (i.e., food availability, food accessibility, food stability, and food utilisation) remains unclear. Agroforestry systems in West Java need to be optimised for improving different aspects of food security—which will probably require partial commercialisation, intensification, and value addition. The topic of agroforestry and food security in West Java and elsewhere needs to be revisited using metrics that provide a better outlook of multiple aspects of food security.



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