By Vina Medenilla
Many forests have been converted to agricultural lands to meet the growing demand for food caused by the escalating human population. The unsustainable use of natural resources in agriculture has been a major contributor to biodiversity loss that threatens not only human lives, but also the animals’ existence that is essential for food production.
“We have to come up with ways to produce food even in a small space and to maximize the production of food to supply the needs of billions of people on Earth,” said Lisa Paguntalan, a biologist and executive director of the Philippine Biologist Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI), on the fourth episode of the Slow Food Negros Community Food Talks series.
During the talk, Paguntalan highlighted the importance of preserving forests and at the same time, boosting food production to curb hunger. The food talk series is part of Terra Madre Salone del Gusto 2020, a worldwide event organized by Slow Food International, a global organization that fosters local food cultures and heritage.
Forest conversion is a threat to biodiversity
People have been resorting to the use of agricultural lands and systems that sometimes deplete the soil nutrients needed for us to grow food. “The unprecedented loss of natural resources has actually limited the ability of our land to produce food sustainably,” Paguntalan explains.
A solution: cultivating food forests
The islands of the Philippines, as per Paguntalan, have unique biodiversity for they are home to native and endemic animals whose roles are interrelated with the plants and other species that they are cohabiting with. This is where forests play a vital role in keeping the systems from going.
Forests are diverse ecosystems that allow countless species of plants and animals to thrive and reproduce. Within a small space, you can find abundant varieties of plants, animals, fungi, and macroinvertebrates that all boost the forests’ productivity. “It will survive even without people intervening or putting in resources. It just goes on. And with this function, it is something that we can translate into food production,” said the biologist. If we have a system that mimics the forests, we can produce food sustainably without the need to exert a lot of energy and resources. As per Paguntalan, cultivating a food forest is all about letting crops grow themselves the most natural way.
A forest is composed several layers and each story consists of plants and animals that coexist together. The canopy is the upper layer composed of the tallest trees that mainly cover the forest. The sub-canopy or understory contains other trees that grow beneath the canopy. Below this is called the shrub and herbaceous or ground layer where beneficial plants like herbs, taro, and ferns can be found. There is also a vertical layer that involves shrubs and vines that climb around the trees.
These layers are filled with as many plants and animals as the space can accommodate. Given the condition of the forest, it can produce and sustain itself all year round. The key element to this is nutrient-rich soil. Paguntalan adds, “Make sure that the nutrients in the soil are always maintained so that it will be able to support the different layers of a forest-type structure.” Without healthy and fertile soil, it would be challenging to maintain a diverse forest.
In the Philippines, we are losing a lot of forests that lead to the rapid loss of biodiversity. As per Paguntalan, we need to keep our natural resources intact and to maintain the balance in our ecosystems for us to have a regular supply of clean water, air, and food. We can continue growing food without clearing our forests. Instead of expanding the lands for agriculture, we could just boost the crops’ productivity while minimizing its adverse effects on the environment.
Without forests that supply our basic needs, we won’t survive. Therefore, let’s keep, maintain, and save them.
For more information and updates about Slow Food Negros Community Food Talks, visit Slow Food Negros Community.