Food And Forests: A Happy Marriage That Can Save The World

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - There is a new buzzword ​in sustainability and it is agroforestry. In Brazil​,​ the Swiss farmer and researcher Ernst Götsch has become a cult figure because of the principles and techniques he has developed in his farm in that country over the course of four decades. He calls it ​​'synthropri​​c ​' ​agriculture and he combines food crops and recovering degraded areas, reverting the logic that you either have forest or agriculture.

Agroforestry is based in processes that mimetize the natural regeneration and synthropic processes of life on the planet. There is not closed package or a recipe for immediate application. Instead, there is a set of techniques and principles that can be applied to specific situations. "We usually say that that the biggest insumo of synthropic Agriculture is knowledge." Because of that, Götsch. offers official training on his method to anyone willing to learn at his Agenda Götsch.

Fungi and forests

Meanwhile​, ​in the Mekong region​ in southeast Asia, new research into fungi is shedding light on how local communities can benefit from harvesting and cultivating mushr​o​oms​,​ and how this activity can help protect forests. Fungi are essential for the preservation of forests. In fact, without them​,​ there would be not much life on land at all as it was the partnership between fungi and plants that allowed marine plants to colonize the land. Fungi help forests grow by supplying trees with nutrients and breaking down organic matter.

The Mekong region extends over parts of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. There ​fungi is also an important source of nutrition​ with ​many edible and medicinal ones. However, as the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) found out, many local people do not know how to identify wild mushrooms that are safe to consume​.​

To tackle the problem, ICRAF and the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) have teamed up to train local communities in mushroom identification, cultivation, harvesting and trade, and have established the Southeast Asian Fungal Network to help communities and researchers share information.​

The two organisations are also working together to catalogue the Mekong region’s fungal diversity​. The area is known to be the home of more than​ 3,000 species​, and o​ver the past five years, 20​ percent​ of the species collected have been new to science. ​But all this diversity is threatened by deforestation and support for research and conservation efforts are needed to preserve "​this ancient partnership between forests and fungi​," the organizations say.​​

"The project aims to give Mekong communities not only a reliable source of income and nutrition but also an incentive to conserve natural forests, which are the source of many of the most valuable mushroom species," says ICRAF soil biologist Dr Peter Mortimer.​

Forests are some of the most important biomes in the world, producing water, housing wildlife and absorbing carbon. Combining forest preservation with food production and harvesting is a winning formula to add even more value to forests and further incentivize their preservation and restoration.​

​Image credit: World Agroforestry Center