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19 Organizations Celebrating the Role of Forests in the Food System

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19 Organizations Celebrating the Role of Forests in the Food System
Joshua Woroniecki / Pexels

By Jared Kaufman

Nearly one-third of the land on Earth is forested, but because of agriculture and infrastructure development, nearly 27 soccer fields' worth of forest are destroyed every minute.


Globally, forests are home to a significant majority of the world's land biodiversity and absorb billions of tons of carbon dioxide every year. Over 1.5 billion people worldwide depend directly on forests for food, shelter, and their livelihoods. In Southeast Asia, countries from Cambodia to Indonesia to the Philippines have returned 8.8 million hectares of forested land to local management, so people who live in forests can lead the protection of their homes. The Mae Tha forest community in northern Thailand, for example, has been able to address droughts and illegal logging. And in Seattle, community members are creating the Beacon Food Forest, an urban permaculture project consisting of fruit and nut trees, berry shrubs, and other edible plants to provide food for the community and rehabilitate native habitats.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls on "forest sector decision-makers to re-imagine forests, not just as spaces for conservation, protection or production … but also as key to the world's food systems and diets."

Food Tank is excited to highlight 19 organizations working around the world to creatively honor and restore one of Earth's most important resources.

1. Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

CIFOR conducts scientific research on forest management to inform policy-making in developing nations. By providing data to help decision-makers better understand issues of concern to forestation advocates and dwellers, CIFOR facilitates effective partnerships between businesses, governments, non-governmental organizations, and citizens. Their research has led to the resolution of land conflicts in Indonesia, passage of legislation against mismanagement of the Peruvian Amazon, and enhanced women's leadership in ecosystem management in Uganda and Nicaragua.

2. Coastal Roots Farm

Coastal Roots Farm, an organic farm and Jewish community education center in Encinitas, California, is home to an 8.5-acre food forest. The farm also grows vegetables, raises chickens, and creates compost—all mission-driven around education, food distribution, and Jewish values. Coastal Roots Farm also hosts an annual Food Forest Festival to celebrate Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish new year of the trees. The 2020 festival, held in February, featured music, food, and the opportunity to work on mulching and seeding projects in the food forest.

3. Forested

Forested is a ten-acre forest garden located in Bowie, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. The permaculture garden works to establish agroforestry as a feasible model for alternative, local food production. Forested founders Lincoln Smith and Ben Friton engage with local resources and ecosystems to provide food that is indigenous to the Maryland region. The organization offers tours, workshops, social dinners, and garden design services.

4. Forested Foods

Forest Foods connects smallholder farmers in Ethiopia's forests with markets for their products. They aim to support the entire supply chain for forest-grown foods, ranging from honey to cumin to ginger. By creating customer bases for these items around the world, Forested Foods can support local producer communities who take care of the forests and farm there sustainably—and increase consumer awareness of the need to support naturally biodiverse forests.

5. Health In Harmony

Health In Harmony establishes community-led solutions to deforestation through a process it calls Radical Listening: the organization asks community members what they need in order to eliminate their reliance on logging. Community members in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo said they needed access to high-quality, affordable health care and training on sustainable agriculture. Once Health In Harmony helped them meet those needs, 88 percent of households stopped logging and infant mortality dropped by 67 percent.

6. The Forests Dialogue

The Forests Dialogue (TFD) is a platform for multi-stakeholder dialogue on sustainable forest management. Their primary aim is to reduce global conflict over the use and protection of forest resources by providing a place for organizations to discuss challenges and collaborate on solutions. TFD, which was founded in 1998, is led by a secretariat at Yale University and overseen by a steering committee whose members represent organizations in six continents.

7. Greening the Desert Project

Located in western Jordan near the border with the West Bank, the Greening the Desert Project uses permaculture practices, including forestation, to counteract desertification. The project site includes a plant nursery, solar electricity and hot water installations, composting toilets, and planned tree- and plant-based ecosystems for local food production. A central aim of the Greening the Desert Project is to give the local population—primarily Bedouin tribes and Palestinian refugees—the tools to become food-secure and self-sufficient.

8. Indonesian Green Action Forum (IGAF)

IGAF engages young people and students in Indonesia to conserve the environment and participate in sustainable agriculture projects. IGAF has developed and implemented more than 30 "eco-projects" in top universities and schools. These initiatives address environmental issues such as deforestation and forest degradation, illegal fishing, climate change, and biodiversity conservation.

9. Koanga Institute

Located in New Zealand, the Koanga Institute is a permaculture village with seed saving projects, heritage fruit tree collections, research projects on urban and forest gardening, and education around regenerative living. It holds nationally significant collections of New Zealand heritage food plants, with more than 800 distinct cultivars in their organic seed collection.

10. Mighty Earth

By launching global campaigns, Mighty Earth encourages major food and agriculture corporations to act more sustainably, ensure their supply chains are not contributing to deforestation, and adopt cleaner energy sources. Currently, Mighty Earth's Forests Campaign is working across three continents—in the Amazon, the Paradise Forests of Southeast Asia, and the Congo Basin—to show companies, governments, and NGOs that agriculture does not have to come at the expense of forested ecosystems. And Mighty Earth is led by people who know these issues deeply: The chairman, former Congressman Henry Waxman, wrote or sponsored both the 1990 Clean Air Act reauthorization and the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as a number of bills to reduce emissions and increase health care access.

11. Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance seeks to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. Their sustainable agriculture certification program conducts supply-chain training, certification, and verification in 78 countries. It aims to protect the biodiversity of forests and waterways, reduce agrochemical use, and safeguard workers and communities.

12. Ripple Africa

Ripple Africa's tree-planting project in Malawi is one of the country's largest forestation programs. Responding to the destruction of indigenous forests to produce firewood and agricultural land, Ripple Africa has supported communities in planting over 15 million trees. They provide local farmers and community groups with resources to grow both fruit trees and quick-growing varieties to use for wood.

13. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

In addition to its 80-acre farm, the Stone Barns Center manages 3,000 acres of surrounding forests and grasslands. In partnership with the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, Stone Barns has developed a Conservation Action Plan (CAP) that uses agriculture as a means of environmental conservation. By strategically implementing livestock grazing, the organization is able to maintain its lands without mowing, add nutrients back into the soil, and increase biodiversity—which provides new habitats for birds and insects.

14. Trees for Food Security

The Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research's Trees for Food Security (T4FS) Project is currently in its second phase in eastern Africa. T4FS worked to conduct trials and educate farmers in Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia on how agroforestry could be used to improve crop yield, soil health, and water efficiency. Between 2017 and the end of 2020, the second phase of T4FS is focusing on diversifying tree species, integrating livestock management into forestry practices, and strengthening smallholder farms.

15. Trees Forever

Trees Forever encourages communities to improve their own habitats by planting trees. They provide technical advice and grant money to help cities and organizations select appropriate trees to plant, plan forestry and conservation projects, and connect people more closely with their land. Since 1989, Trees Forever has planted over 3 million trees and shrubs across Iowa and Illinois.

16. Trees That Feed Foundation (TTFF)

TTFF is a U.S.-based nonprofit that distributes fruit-bearing trees in order to feed people, create jobs, and benefit the environment. Working across 17 countries, TTFF has now expanded operations to offer manufacturing equipment, cooking classes, meal programs, and school support to foster further economic and social opportunities in the communities they serve.

17. Twantoh Mixed Farming Common Initiative Group (MIFACIG)

In 1993, in response to food shortages, soil infertility, and forest exploitation in Cameroon, MIFACIG was founded to share knowledge about agroforestry with farmers. Originally a tree nursery, MIFACIG opened the Training and Resource Center in 2002 to formally educate youth, women, and vulnerable populations in natural resource management. While learning about sustainable tree domestication, participants are encouraged to also begin creating their own gardens, orchards, and even beehives.

18. World Agroforestry (ICRAF)

ICRAF supports the development of agroforestry policies and practices to stimulate agricultural growth, raise farmers' incomes, and protect the environment across the globe. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, ICRAF is the world's largest repository of agroforestry science and information, with programs spanning Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

19. Youthaiti

Based in indigenous forest land in Haiti, in the province of Grand'Anse, Youthaiti is a nonprofit organization teaching young Haitians about nutrient cycling, ecological sanitation, permaculture, reforestation, and household gardening. Additionally, Youthaiti provides young Haitians space for experimentation with indigenous conservation techniques.

Reposted with permission from Food Tank.

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