Without any significant change in farming methods, the world’s population growth is likely to increase the already high rates of deforestation in tropical regions to free up land for agriculture. This threatens to destroy natural environments and exacerbate the problem of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which many scientists believe is a cause of global warming.
An International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition is being hosted by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome. This will look at how retaining forests and creating tree-based agricultural systems should be a vital element in feeding a growing population. New studies from Africa indicate that people living in areas with tree cover eat more fruits and vegetables, and food from forests acts as a vital fallback when harvests of traditional crops are poor. A study carried out in Tanzania by the Centre for International Forestry Research found that poor people with access to a forested area were gaining nearly a third of their vitamin A and a quarter of the iron in their diet from food grown using ‘natural systems’.
The conference comes at a time when governments in Africa are placing a new focus on climate issues. So, for example, Ethiopia plans to invest 150 billion dollars over the next twenty years in its Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy, which sets out a target for the country to be carbon neutral by 2025.
And in March, Kenya unveiled its new national climate change action plan, which provides a framework to ensure climate issues are treated as integral to the country’s future development and economic growth. This includes raising awareness about climate change issues in Kenya. The architects of the plan believe this awareness needs to be built up at every level, including among the next generation. The plan therefore calls for climate change and its impact to be part of the primary school curriculum in Kenya. Primary school children are already introduced to studies of nature and agriculture and the plan suggests topics of climate change and adaptation should be integrated into these areas. At secondary school, pupils should be “equipped with skills to support a future climate resilient economy” and courses should eventually be changed to touch on specific environmental topics such as “clean energy alternatives and reduction of deforestation”. Finally, the plan calls for climate change to be “infused into the various professions” at university level. Such a call would no doubt be welcomed by environmentalists everywhere.