Ancient human-food feedback could boost tropical food security

In a Perspective, Bernardo Flores and Carolina Levis discuss the positive feedback between local peoples and food availability in tropical forests. Although they were once considered to be harsh and inhospitable environments, largely devoid of large populations, a growing body of research shows that, for more than 13,000 years, humans have resided and thrived in tropical forest environments, transforming the natural landscapes into forest gardens. Even the Amazon – a region often regarded as a paragon of pristine tropical forest – is dominated by edible plant species closely associated with humans. Flores and Levis highlight the social-ecological system of these tropical forests whereby local people enriched the forest with edible plant species, and the highly productive forests increased overall food availability, allowing forest societies to expand. According to the authors, leveraging this ancient relationship by ensuring local peoples’ access to their ancestral forest lands could help efforts to conserve these sensitive environments while also boosting food security and sovereignty in tropical regions. Globally, more than a billion people rely on forest resources for food, particularly in tropical regions. Indigenous and local peoples of these regions have historically – sometimes for thousands of years – contributed to the enrichment of forests with food. Even today, their territories act as buffers against deforestation and landscape degradation. “For this ancient feedback to continue functioning, societies need to recognize indigenous and local peoples’ rights to their ancestral forest land,” write Flores and Levis.


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