ForestsOn March 21 of every year, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Forests.

Forests play a key role in maintaining the water resources and overall equilibrium on Earth. The following are seven important facts about forests as stated by the FAO:

1. Wetlands and streams running through forests supply 75 percent of the human population’s fresh water.

2. About one-third of the world’s largest cities rely on forested areas for their drinking water.

3. Almost 80 percent of the global population is living in area that is threatened by water security.

4. Forests act as water filters, trapping pollutants and reducing sediment in rivers and wetlands.

5. Trees are very important in the climate change arena. Not only do they have a cooling effect on the environment but they also regulate water flow and influence the availability of water resources.

6. Unless conservation strategies are enacted, by 2030, the world will see a 40 percent deficit in water resources.

7. Forests have a vital role in reducing natural disasters such as landslides and avalanches, as well as in strengthening resistance to erosion.

People living in poverty often lack access to clean drinking water sources. They also tend to be the hardest hit by natural disasters such as severe storms and floods. While trees can help keep drinking water sources clean and mitigate the effects of natural disasters, illegal logging is a fact of life in many parts of the world.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “illegal logging accounts for 50 to 90 percent of all forestry activities in key producer tropical forests, such as those of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and 15 to 30 percent of all wood traded globally.”

In an article on the WWF website, the organization says that increased demand for forests products has brought some financial benefits for poor people living in or near forests. “But there is also evidence to show that usually, poor communities who are completely dependent on forests lose out to powerful interests, logging companies and migrant workers who reap most of the benefits.”

Often poor communities that are dependent upon forests for harvesting wood for fuel for cooking, heating and occasionally for selling lumber lose all control of the forest when powerful outsiders come in and strip the land for the lumber or for agricultural interests.

To combat illegal logging and drive improvements in the forest products sector, the WWF created the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) to help keep track of where wood products come from. It was created in 1999 and now works with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Governments that maintain control of large areas of forests can take advantage of this vital resource by managing forests sustainably, selling the lumber and taxing the products. If governments do not exact control over their forests, Marianne Fernagut writes in GRID-Arendal Publications that the “loss of revenues as a result of illegal logging can cost governments and economies millions of dollars each year.”

In countries where a fair tax system has been put in place, the resources can be used for schools, or other infrastructure. For example, in Bolivia 25 percent of monies made from forest resources is kept by the government.

In another article in GRID-Arendal by David Huberman and Leo Peskett, the authors posit a mostly theoretical framework called ‘Reduce Emissions for Deforestation and Degradation’ (REDD), in which developing countries can be paid to keep their land forested. “Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) regime, substantial amounts of money could be transferred to developing countries: some estimates suggest more than USD 15 billion per year would be available, a figure which dwarfs existing aid flows to the world’s forest regions.”

Rhonda Marrone

Sources: FAO, Panda 1, Panda 2, Grida 1, Grida 2
Photo: Flickr

committee on forestry
Forests are one of the world’s most crucial ecosystems, providing a large portion of the world’s population with energy, shelter and aspects of primary health care. However, despite the importance of forests to the development agenda, they are routinely ignored in national policies.

The vast socioeconomic benefits of forests and the need to protect them were discussed at the 22nd Session of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Committee on Forestry (COFO) this month.

The United Nations agency report The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) credits forests with the preservation of biodiversity and acknowledges their key role as carbon sinks. Forests are indispensable to environmental preservation, performing erosion control, pollution, natural pest and disease control and climate-change alleviation.

According to this report, the formal forest sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and at least another 41 million in the informal sector.

Forests are especially important in less-developed regions, where roughly 840 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, collect wood fuel and charcoal for their own use. Wood fuel is oftentimes the sole source of energy for impoverished people. The SOFO report estimates that about 40 percent of the population of less developed countries cooks with wood fuel.

Additionally, the report reveals, “at least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the worlds population, live in houses built of wood.” Wood homes are key for developing countries, because they are oftentimes the most affordable building option.

Although these figures give us a sense of the world’s use of forests, it does not begin to capture the significance of trees to the poor.

As the SOFO report insists, “Evidence is critical to inform policies on forest management and use, and to ensure that the benefits from forests are recognized in the post-2015 development – not only with respect to the environment but for their contribution social issues as well.”

FAO Assistance Director-General for Forests, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, suggests “countries should shift their focus, both in data collection and policymaking, from production to benefits, in other words, from trees to people.”

Rojas-Briales hopes that when more data is collected to confirm the importance of wood to the poor, policy makers, donors and investors will be more willing to protect forests.

In order to strengthen forest and farm producer organizations, FAO signed a four-year agreement with AgriCord to collaborate with the Forest and Farm Facility, and these forest protection issues will be discussed further at the joint World Health Organization global intergovernmental conference on nutrition, to be held in Rome in November 2014.

– Grace Flaherty

Sources: UN News CentreFood and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Photo: World Wild Life

When the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization released two reports on food security in mid-May, insects captured all the headlines. The first report garnered the majority of media attention. It discussed the potential for insects as an untapped highly efficient protein source that could help fight food insecurity. The second report, provided valuable new information on how forests could play an important role in safeguarding food security worldwide.

The FAO released its report “Forests for Improved Nutrition and Food Security” at the international conference May 13-15 of this year highlighted the direct and indirect ways in which forests, trees and woodlands support food and nutritional security, and provided policy recommendations on how those contributions could be enhanced and maintained.

According to the conference website, 870 million people go hungry everyday. To meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population in the future, which is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, global agricultural output will have to increase by an estimated 60 percent.

Escalating food, fiber, and fuel demands have triggered deforestation in many places that threatens ecosystems, diminishes the availability of water, and limits access to wood used as fuel. These shortages threaten food security, particularly for the poorest members of society.

There are additional, often overlooked, ways in which forests and trees contribute to fighting global poverty and hunger efforts. Uninhabited forests and forests bordering agricultural areas play an important role in food security. Many indigenous people rely on forest ecosystems for their survival because of protected catchments, which help deliver clean water to agricultural areas, and available food stuffs, namely nuts, leaves, shoots, fruit, fungi and animals. Herders in semi-arid and arid regions also depend on trees to provide fodder for livestock.

The World Bank estimates that 60 million people are wholly dependent on forests for their survival and 350 million people living within or near dense forests depend on them for income or subsistence.

Forests, trees, and agroforestry systems provide vital contributions  to nutrition and food security, the FAO says, but those benefits are often ignored in development and food security strategies. As a result, forests are left out of many food security and nutrition decisions. Farmers can improve food security by planting trees and forest plants, retaining trees on agricultural land,and encouraging natural regeneration.

Eva Muller, director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division told The Interdependent that, “The big challenge is raising awareness… The link between forests and food security has not been clear for many people in the past.”

– Liza Casabona

Sources: FAO The Interdependent The World Bank
Photo: United Nations


When talking about water on World Water Day, one cannot forget forests. Forests cover approximately a third of the entire globe and provide support for more than 1.6 billion people and thousands of different animal species. Forests are the source of 75 percent of all freshwater, help combat climate change by storing more carbon than is in the environment,  and are suppliers of wood-based fuel. Forests are important to the welfare of everyone.

Yet, each year, more than 13 million hectares of forest land is being destroyed. This fact has caused UN Chief, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to urge businesses, governments, and people at large to pledge to protect forests and all of those who rely on forests to live. Protecting forests does not just mean reducing deforestation, which is occurring more rapidly because of urbanization and increased agriculture. Currently, deforestation accounts for over 10 percent of the gas emissions that are affecting global warming. And while expansion is necessary, it must be done in a way that does not infringe too much on the vital forests that exist across the world.

Forests must also be protected against climate changes, making it even more urgent for the global community to address climate changes. It is affecting all aspects of life, from figuring out where to vacation for the summer to farming cycles to certain animal migration or moving patterns to forests, the largest producer of freshwater.

Ban Ki-moon said that, “We need now to intensify efforts to protect forests, including by incorporating them into the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals.” Making forests a major part in sustainable development goals will benefit the planet in the future.

– Angela Hooks

Source: allAfrica
Photo: WWF