Rome, 23 June 2014. National policies and programmes should have a stronger focus on the potential of forests to reduce poverty and spur rural development.
Countries should put more policy emphasis on maintaining and enhancing the vital contributions of forests to livelihoods, food, health and energy, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.
FAO's flagship publication The State of the World's Forests(SOFO), presented today at the opening of the 22nd Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO), shows that a significant proportion of the world population relies on forest products to meet basic needs for energy, shelter and some aspects of primary healthcare - often to a very high degree.
However, the report finds that these socioeconomic benefits are often not adequately addressed in forest and other relevant policies, despite their enormous potential to contribute to poverty reduction, rural development and greener economies.
The role of forests in food security is also often overlooked, but it is essential.
"This 2014 edition of SOFO focuses on the socioeconomic benefits derived from forests. It is impressive to see how forests contribute to basic needs and rural livelihoods. They are also a carbon sink, and preserve biodiversity," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. "Let me say this clearly: we cannot ensure food security or sustainable development without preserving and using forest resources responsibly," he added.
Wood a major source of household energy, but overlooked in policies
In many developing countries, wood energy is often the only accessible and affordable fuel for the majority of people. One in three households uses wood as their main fuel for cooking. Wood energy provides over half of the total energy supply in 29 countries, including 22 in Africa. In Tanzania, for example, woodfuel accounts for about 90 percent of total national energy consumption.
Wood energy is essential for the food security of billions of people, but forest, energy and food-security policies rarely fully recognize this. Much needs to be done to improve wood energy production, make it more sustainable and to reduce the burden on women and children, who collect 85 percent of all firewood used in homes.
One in five people live in houses built of wood
At least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the world's population, live in houses built of wood, according to SOFO. This is particularly important in less-developed countries, where forest products are usually more affordable than other building materials. The production of building materials, wood energy and non-wood forest products employs at least 41 million people in the "informal" sector worldwide, three times the number of people employed in the formal forest sector.
In addition, forests perform many essential environmental services, such as erosion control, pollination, natural pest and disease control, and climate-change mitigation, as well as provide numerous social and cultural services and nutrients to local communities all year round.
FAO will address these and other important nutritional issues at the joint WHO-FAO global intergovernmental conference on nutrition ICN2, to be held in Rome on 19-21 November 2014.
Adjusting forest policies
FAO's new report stresses that providing local communities and families with access to forests and markets and strengthening forest tenure rights are powerful ways of enhancing the socioeconomic benefits of forests and reducing poverty in rural areas.
SOFO highlights the need to improve the productivity of the private sector, including informal producers, and to increase accountability for the sustainable management of the resources on which forest enterprises are based. Stronger recognition of the role of forest environmental services, and payment mechanisms to ensure the maintenance of those services, are also required.
In light of the data and analysis provided in the report, many national policies may need to be reoriented, says FAO.
"Countries should shift their focus, both in data collection and policymaking, from production to benefits - in other words, from trees to people," said FAO Assistant Director-General for Forests, Eduardo Rojas-Briales. "Policies and programmes, both in the forest sector and beyond, must explicitly address the role of forests in providing food, energy and shelter. A new, holistic concept of forests will make them more attractive to donors and investors and ensure that they benefit all people, especially those most in need."