The climate crisis and poor eating habits can partly be solved by humanity eating more food from tropical trees. While global trends in agriculture and diets are not easily reversed, scientists say that creating incentives to grow and eat more mangos, avocados and Brazil nuts can be both attainable and sustainable.
“Planting the right type of trees in the right place can provide nutritious foods to improve diets sustainably while providing other valuable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration,” said Merel Jansen, the lead author from ETH Zurich and the Center of International Forestry Research, in a statement. “It also can contribute to development issues related to poverty reduction, biodiversity conservation, and food security.”
In spite of the diversity of edible plants, of which there are more than 7,000, the global food system is founded on extraordinarily low diversity. Almost half the calories consumed by humans come from only four crops: wheat, rice, sugarcane and maize.
The overconsumption of these energy-rich but nutrient-poor foods – in combination with underconsumption of more nutritious foods – has contributed significantly to malnutrition, which afflicts some two billion people. Moreover, their cultivation has caused widespread losses of biodiversity and contributed to climate change.
With the right incentives, investments and involvement, smallholder farms could scale up agroforestry systems to produce more, healthy food, while simultaneously diversifying their income sources, say the researchers.
The majority of global cropland does not incorporate trees but has a high potential for doing so. Further, vast tracts of land in the tropics have been cleared for agriculture and then abandoned, and coordinated restoration efforts could include the establishment of sustainably managed agroforestry systems.
Image credit: Christoph Diewald via Flickr