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