Food security and forest conservation: the development dilemma

This blog discusses how the need for food security places pressure on the world’s forests and examines the conflict between agriculture and conservation, before considering whether this dichotomy is false, and possible solutions to the challenging relationship between food security and forestry. 

Agriculture-driven deforestation, WWF

What’s the connection between food security and forestry?

Food security is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food. To meet the food needs of an ever-increasing global population the FAO predict that global agricultural outputs must expand by 60%, and continued urbanisation and rising incomes will also increase agricultural demand.

With these scenarios in mind, meeting the demand for productive agricultural land use while conserving biodiversity is a “global challenge.” This is particularly relevant to the world’s forests; agriculture directly drives around 80% of global deforestation.

Deforestation and degradation of woodland is a global threat in itself; it is responsible for around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the destruction of biodiverse and unique habitats, and the loss of indigenous livelihoods. Is increasing food security a win-lose situation when associated with the conservation of forestry?

Is it a win-lose situation?

Recently, agricultural growth and food production has generally been a story of success; grain production has increased faster than the global population and has played a part in reducing malnourishment. Amongst other factors, this has been driven by an increase in cultivated land. Currently, global crop yields are growing too slowly to meet present and future food needs, so it may be necessary to expand agricultural land to meet future food demands.

Furthermore, agricultural expansion can benefit national and individual economies. Brazil’s economy has benefited from agricultural conversion of the Amazon, tapping into global demands for beef, grain and soybeans. The Cerrado region in Brazil has seen a 37% increase in agricultural GDP per capita, and stands to flourish even more because of ideal crop-growing geographical conditions and relatively cheap land. Additionally, agricultural expansion can be used as tool for job creation1.

However, these aspects of food security through agricultural expansion are to the detriment of forestry conservation efforts. Primarily, the combined effects of deforestation and agricultural expansion release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and endanger an essential climate regulating source. In addition, deforestation can be responsible for the destruction of forest’s diverse uses such as wood for fuel and construction, medicine and livelihood strategies. Also, it can be argued that agriculture-driven deforestation can harm food security– forests are a direct source for food for indigenous communities, and provide many ecosystem services for agriculture, including soil fertility, water, pollination and fodder for livestock.


Terraced agriculture on previously forested land, Dolakha, Nepal

A false dichotomy?

Holmgren argues that the portrayed dichotomy between food security and forest conservation is false and that an ‘either-or’ approach is nonsensical. Firstly, the framing of food security is misleading; food insecurity is not caused by insufficient agricultural production, but because of poverty, poor nutrition and limited access to food. Conversely, Stevenson suggests that enough food is produced to feed double the current population, but 60% is wasted. Rather than large-scale, forest guzzling commercial agricultural monocultures, the food security solution is aiding small-scale farmers (who make up 50% of those in poverty) and embracing the diversity and versatility of forests in the food production process.

Agroforestry has the potential to encompass these aspects in a comprehensive approach to agricultural production and forest conservation, whilst REDD+ can be a tool for forest conservation and provide economic alternatives to halt agricultural-driven deforestation.

Agroforestry: harnessing the agricultural benefits of trees

Agroforestry is when forested areas are integrated within systems of crop cultivation and livestock rearing. It is practiced by 1.2 billion people in the world and has many benefits which contribute to food security. Firstly, it can increase crop yields; trees can replenish soils with nutrients and act as a natural fertiliser, as well as increase livestock productivity. Van Vark illustrates this with the Faidherbia tree, which is integrated into maize crops in Malawi. When dormant, the tree sheds nitrogen-rich leaves which acts as fertiliser- studies show yields can increase by as much as 400%. Secondly, trees become a direct source of food, which can increase dietary diversity, and provide a resilient source food in erratic climates. Thirdly, it creates opportunities for economic diversification; food sourced from trees can command higher market prices, and products such as medicines from the bark can be sold to provide income for food. Furthermore, agroforestry is the driving force behind the ‘regreening’ of large swathes of Africa which has seen millions of hectares being restored with trees and shrubs, leading to an increase in biodiversity, food production, and a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.

However agroforestry has not been without its critics- some argue that it isn’t appropriate in places where land tenure isn’t secure because of potential conflicts, adequate policy mechanisms aren’t in place, and benefits are not immediate but require long-term management.



Figure One: how agroforestry leads to food security and forest conservation


REDD+ encourages economic growth and conservation

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is a policy mechanism for sustainable forest management, achieved through financially incentivising the conservation, protection and preservation of our forest’s rich environmental and social diversity. Whilst primarily a tool for conservation, Holgren argues that policies such as REDD+ are not included in food security debates as much as they should be, and that REDD+ goes further than just environmental conservation; REDD+ protects forestry as a source of income, and rewards conservation economically. The resulting income diversification would improve food security, as would the long-term climate adaptive capacity of communities, and the transparent and accountable governance which is associated with REDD+.

However, a large number of questions remain over REDD+’s suitability to dealing with food security issues. The policy would limit the availability of potential agricultural land, which would result in higher food and land costs. REDD+ could also curtail indigenous farming practices- shifting cultivation for subsistence purposes would be restricted and therefore removing a valuable source of food security.

What next?

It is naive to think that the forecast food and agricultural demands will not have an impact on the conservation of our forests. Whilst progress has been made, agriculture-driven deforestation will remain high and continue to damage forest conservation efforts. A synthesis of approaches will be needed to challenge this conflict; implementation of agroforestry and REDD+ will have varying degrees of success based on a number of factors. However, promising steps have been made- a realisation of the food benefits our forests bring is needed for greater food security and forest conservation.


1SOMASHEKAR, N. (2003). Development and Environmental Economics. Delhi, New Age International.

The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield: Re-framing the Food Waste and Food Poverty Debate

This blog investigates the debates surrounding the ‘paradox’ of food waste and food poverty and explores the actions of The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield on this matter, and other food waste issues. The article is based on an interview with Rene Meijer, the Education and Finance Director at The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield.

More information on The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield can be found here.

Introducing The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield.

It’s a busy time for The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield (TRJFP). In recent months they have opened a second café, acquired a warehouse and introduced their ‘Fuel for School’ initiative. The not-for-profit organisation promote the value of food and people by reducing unnecessary food waste, improving the availability and access to food, and increasing critical food skills.

The organisation collects surplus food from food retailers in Sheffield. Surplus food is usually food which is no longer desired, primarily due to products’ best-before dates. This food ‘waste’ is then processed by TRJFP by trained chefs into meals served in their two cafés and various other projects.


What is Food Waste and how is it valued?

 Food waste is subjective; it is a consumable item which has crossed a “cultural line that separates it from stuff that is worth keeping or using”1. For TRJFP, anything that can be eaten but is destined for landfill is potential waste, which they aim to intercept.

How do TRJFP put a value on food waste? The answer is by introducing a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ system in their cafés; “you can choose to pay in money, skills, or your energy by washing up, helping out, teaching us something.” This allows people to make their own judgement on value, enter into a transaction on their own terms and remove financial barriers to food. Underpinning the concept is TRJFP questioning an issue “very much ingrained into society”-we value food only in terms of its “monetary equivalent.” The time, skills and resources which have gone into its production are ignored, as is the potential environmental harm of waste. Challenging this mind-set is the starting point to tackling food waste.


What is the paradox of simultaneous high levels of food waste and food poverty?

In the UK, 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away at a cost of £19 billion a year. The environmental cost is high; food waste is associated with over 20 billion tonnes of Greenhouse Gas Emissions each year. Per household, 24 meals are thrown away each month. 75% of waste is avoidable.

Simultaneously, more than 8 million households struggle to put food on the table, nearly 5 million are severely food-insecure and in 2014, over 20 million meals were handed out via food banks. Why do so many people struggle to eat and are reliant on food aid? Surely using surplus food to address food poverty is win-win?

For TRJFP, it isn’t that simple. Though aware that the “double edged sword” of food waste and food poverty are intrinsically connected, TRJFP first and foremost tackle food waste.

The natural connection people make between food waste and food poverty means there can be confusion over the TRJFP’s aims; when picking up non-saleable food from supermarkets, they are occasionally greeted by ‘there isn’t much food today, I’m sorry!’ For TRJFP the apology isn’t needed; “that’s a good thing, mission accomplished!” It’s a concern for TRJFP because it “weakens the message” of food waste.

TRJFP have a “rich mix of people” engaging with the project. They “depend on some donations to make things work” and if seen as a food poverty organisation, they would lose a large chunk of their audience, making it hard to “sustain the project financially.” The misconception could also change the relationship they have with the homeless and vulnerable; they would “come here because there are food handouts.” This is financially unsustainable and weakens another message; food has value. A space where people who would usually never be in the same space together, would be at risk.

However, one should not view TRJFP as dismissive of food poverty, far from it. TRJFP frame it differently, a way which encourages equality and awareness. “Rather than tackle food poverty, we provide equal access to food for everyone… we don’t exclude people, including those in poverty.” Pay-as-you-feel illustrates TRJFP’s food poverty outlook- “it allows every person in the world to enter into a respectful value transaction with the project” and food. The Project provides “access without stigma-” it doesn’t fixate on monetary value, a barrier to food for many.

In their quest to tackle food waste TRJFP will indirectly address food poverty. This is illustrated by the Fuel for School initiative, which introduces children to food waste and mitigation strategies. It delivers two messages: a better understanding of how waste impacts “their environment and surroundings” and ways to reduce it, and the development of food skills- “how many people still have a broad range of cooking skills that allows them to use the foods that they have in the fridge in a creative way? Or to understand when foods are off or not off, irrespective of what a date says?” Future generations will be equipped with lost food skills and schools provide a setting for accessing food when in need through junk food cafés; evidence suggests “it provides parents with access to food where they [previously] didn’t have” and a greater connection to “different types of food they otherwise weren’t familiar with.”


The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield and the food waste and poverty paradox: what next?

The ultimate aim is to see a reduction in food waste, and if that results in those in poverty receiving food, it’s win-win. “At the end of the day I don’t actually really care as long as someone eats it! If we do that well enough… everyone will get to eat, because there is enough food.” Moving forward, building further relationships with food poverty organisations is an objective. In terms of food waste, food poverty structures in Sheffield work “incredibly poorly”- TRJFP actually receive ‘out-of-date’ food from food banks, a “ridiculous” scenario. Also, “many people that get stuff from a food bank don’t know how to use half of it” and TRJFP argue that recipients should not just receive food, but opportunities to develop food skills. There are many avenues to take TRJFP’s success in tackling food waste into the food poverty debate, but for now, TRJFP is taking steps to keep their food waste message strong.

TRJFP is winning many battles in the war against food waste. Their re-framing of the food waste and poverty debate answer criticisms of ‘win-win solution’; those who question the ethics of providing surplus food to ‘surplus’ people only have to visit the café to see the food is not lacking in quality, and the atmosphere means all customers are welcome. In summary, the TRJFP principles of equal access and food values ensure fairness in the food system, but reducing food waste remains their primary aim.

1JACKSON, Peter (2013). Food Words: essays in culinary culture. Bloomsbury. London.



Valuing Nature: it’s too late not to talk about money

On Thursday 20th October, the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, Sheffield Institute for International Development and the Green Economy Network held a seminar event, with the aim of answering the question ‘Valuing Nature: Can putting a price on nature help or hinder its conservation?’


Left to right: Bill Adams, Owen Hewlett, Lorraine Maltby, Dan Brockington.

This blog will summarise a few of the topics covered during the debate, drawing on discussions between Bill Adams (Professor of Conservation, The University of Cambridge), Owen Hewlett (Chief Technical Officer, The Gold Standard), Lorraine Maltby (Professor of Environmental Biology, The University of Sheffield) and Dan Brockington (Director, Sheffield Institute for International Development).

 What is valuing nature?

It is argued that placing an economic value on nature, it’s ‘natural capital’ (the services the environment provides us for free) and biodiversity would pressure governments, corporations and the public to conserve, rather than destroy, the natural environment. Others argue that this is an extension of neo-liberalism which seeks to monetise the things that were once thought of as ‘priceless.’ During the #gcsfnature debate, a number of talking points arose, including the framing of ‘value’ and the role of carbon pricing.

Whose value is it?

Lorraine Maltby of the University of Sheffield summarised a theme which was revisited throughout the debate by asking “whose values do you take into account?” when placing a price on nature, before continuing to suggest that her values may be quite different to others. Bill Adams suggested that nature’s financialisation only frames some people’s ideas of nature and that this could lead to the conservation of aspects which are valued highly by some, at the detriment of “non-charismatic,” undervalued areas of nature. Owen Hewlett agreed that there is a “confused language” over the valuation of nature and that the only way to overcome subjective views is through stakeholder-led, trickle up projects.

Can carbon pricing work as a policy mechanism?

The issue of carbon pricing- the process of putting a price on carbon pollution, placing the economic burden on those who are responsible for it and stimulating of investment for ‘clean’ projects- arose during the debate. Hewlett illustrated how the concept of carbon pricing is attractive by explaining how a price on carbon is quantifiable and “globally homogenous” but stated that he didn’t believe that carbon pricing could solve the climate problem, citing how it overlooks other values. Adams agreed, suggesting that it can’t deal with intrinsic values, such as aesthetic qualities. Further examples could be cultural importance, or use in subsistence livelihoods. Furthermore, Adams suggested that there is a natural aversion to only value what you can measure; the quantitative science but not the qualitative evidence.

What next? “Chain yourself to the railings or get your calculator out”

Adams’ exclamation that there were two very different approaches to valuing nature was extreme, but highlighted how varied opinion remains over the subject. I tend to agree with Hewlett’s assertion that it’s too late not to talk about the money; activism at a local level is essential and has an important role in safeguarding and holding those in power accountable, but talking money is the way to get through to people in power and much needed investment from the private sector. Furthermore, Hewlett’s experience of seeing it work and constant reminders of the need for “stakeholder inclusivity” gives one hope that nature will not be forgotten in this economically driven and environmentally volatile world.

REDD+ and the Peace Process: a cornerstone for a peaceful and sustainable future?

This blog was written for GLOSS (Global Leadership Opportunities in the Social Sciences, University of Sheffield) and also hosted by the Global Policy Journal on the 27th June 2016.

This blog draws on discussions which took place at the Oslo REDD+ Exchange between 500 policy makers, government officials, civil society actors and indigenous peoples’ representatives. This blog examines the debates from one panel session entitled REDD+ and Peace Processes: How can they be mutually supportive?

What is REDD+ and what has it got to do with peace?

REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) is a policy mechanism for sustainable forest management, achieved through financially incentivising the conservation, protection and preservation of our forest’s rich environmental and social diversity. As an international initiative, REDD+ can take many forms and has recently emerged as a tool for furthering peace in post-conflict countries.

Combining REDD+ with peace building processes is a win-win situation according to Pablo Viera Samper, the Vice Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia. Considering that since 2007 (when REDD+ was first instituted), more than half of the participating countries have experienced violent and/or militarised conflict, REDD+ must consider its emergent role as a peace building initiative.


“REDD+ and Peace Processes: How can they be mutually Supportive” –   Samper, Abreu and  Siakor (left to right) pictured fielding a question from the floor. 

How does REDD+ support the peace process?

Colombia, as introduced by Samper, provides a touchstone by which to explore the possibilities of peace building and REDD+. According to Samper, REDD+ has enabled Colombia (a country with a vast history of conflict) to facilitate peace by “taking away conflict opportunities”, generating new livelihood prospects, and transforming natural resource activities. Indeed, forest resources have previously been “honeypots” used by violent partisan groups to finance conflict, however the implementation of REDD+ serves to remove access to this potential source of capital, and thus reduces the potential for conflict.

REDD+ is also acting as a positive vehicle for peace beyond Latin America. Sialas Siakor, recipient of the Goldman Award for the Environment, highlights how REDD+ has aided Liberia’s transition out of conflict by providing the chance to change and re-build relationships between stakeholders. Additionally, REDD+ gave the State the opportunity to embrace transparent processes following secrecy and division during conflict.

What challenges are faced by REDD+ in the peace process?

The legacy of conflict leaves scars: both on the people and the physical environment. These scars create obstacles for the successful implementation of REDD+ as conflict can leave communities, governments and stakeholders in a state of trauma and vulnerability; and therefore for these groups, trusting REDD+ and its associated baggage can prove difficult.

Myanmar is at the beginning of a REDD+ pilot and Mr. Abreu, a civil society member from the country, acknowledges the numerous obstacles Myanmar faces. Rival factions who control autonomous areas of forest (this in itself may be “tied directly to grievances” underlying the conflict) have differing approaches to deforestation, and these fragmented policies make it virtually impossible to implement a homogenous version of the REDD+ scheme, even on a local scale.

Furthermore, the capacity of Myanmar to (re)accommodate displaced populations and implement REDD+ practices was also raised. With a return of refugees, comes a subsequent demand for land; and this uncertain land tenure was cited by 50% of delegates at the Oslo REDD+ Exchange as the main challenge for Myanmar and the implementation of REDD+ practices moving forward.

Given the debates occurring at the conference, it became apparent that REDD+ as a policy actor in fragile states, could be viewed as a further catalyst for the exacerbation of conflict stresses. According to Blundell (Former Chair of the UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Liberia), advocates of REDD+ insist they are not a “trigger” for reoccurring conflict, but realistically, it is likely that attempts to introduce top-down policy mechanisms, will face difficulties in cohesively bringing together conflicting stakeholders.

Moving forward: can REDD+ and peace building be mutually supportive?

REDD+ and peace processes are not yet recognised as issues which go hand-in-hand; only 15% of peace agreements mention natural resources and there is insufficient research on the subject.

Blundell acknowledged that Colombia’s success in the pairing of REDD+ and peace building is an exception and not the rule, and that there is a long way to go before the affiliation is recognised in mainstream policy. It is evident, that shortcomings which are familiar to REDD+ on a wider scale are replicated in REDD+ and peace building discussions- such as concerns over the desire for a “quick win” (the logging industry provides immediate revenue, compared to the transparency and related bureaucracy involved in REDD+ funding).

All these debates beg the question, is REDD+ overreaching its remit by participating in post-conflict situations? For example, should REDD+ compete against the cocaine market in Colombia? Blundell noted that if REDD+ doesn’t play a part in these locations, it would ignore over 40% of the world’s forest and these issues do seem intrinsically tied together. Discussion surrounding REDD+ and its relationship with the peace process has generated more questions than answers. Due to the murky role of business during conflict REDD+ must ensure transparency and sensitivity when affiliating with the private sector. However, with increased security costs in post-conflict countries, REDD+ needs access to funding and a helping hand from the “power of business.” The catch-22s that plague much of REDD+ debate are already entrenched in discussion regarding the programme’s peace building contributions. However, one can hope that the enthusiastic partnerships which appeared to be on the cards at the Oslo REDD+ Exchange can be put into practice, and the peace building process can help embed REDD+ as a vehicle for positive social, environmental and economic change