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From food deserts to food forests: how cities can shape more sustainable food systems

From food deserts to food forests: how cities can shape more sustainable food systems

Food Forest

Globally, 690 million people suffer from hunger and three billion cannot afford healthy, nutritious food. Despite this, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that one-third of all food fit for consumption is either lost during the production or shipping process or wasted. Access to healthy food is another issue altogether, with, particularly, many cities facing an increase in the number of urban areas known as “food deserts”, areas with limited access to affordable, nutritious food.

Not all solutions to our global food crisis require advanced technological solutions. It may not be entirely obvious to many of us but some of the most nutrient-rich foods originate from forests: nuts, berries, mushrooms and plants are just some examples. What if we used this invaluable forest ecosystem in a whole different setting, our cities, to provide nutritious, healthy and locally produced food for urban residents?

In the run-up to the Food Systems Summit, UNECE and FAO are releasing a new video introducing the concept of “food forests” – a way of combining agriculture and forestry in an urban environment to create edible landscapes. By mimicking how plants grow naturally on multiple layers within a forest, food forests consist of a canopy with tall fruit and nut trees, shrubs and bushes which bear fruit, a layer including herbs and vegetables, and ground-hugging plants, vines and roots. In addition to being less maintenance-heavy than crops, these food forests boost biodiversity, contribute to food security, and help build more sustainable and resilient communities.

Cities worldwide are the most active in experimenting with food forests and urban gardens to tackle food availability and food deserts. The city of Atlanta, USA, for example, has local food forest which provide a variety of nuts, fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms, all freely available to its residents. Many European cities are also taking action. For example, in Switzerland, Greece, Spain, and the United Kingdom, local authorities are increasingly turning to community orchards and urban gardening as a way to connect residents to local food sources and build awareness of how the food on our tables every day is produced. These edible landscapes are not only integral part of our food systems but bring together diverse stakeholders for more sustainable food production and consumption, increased biodiversity in our cities and environmental benefits for years to come.   

Learn more about food forests by watching the video.

Learn more about the Food Systems Summit here.  

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 12 34

Email: unece_info@un.org

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