Overstory #254 - The contribution of forests to sustainable development
In many countries, development is needed to increase employment and raise the standard of living (Dasgupta, 2011). To be sustainable, however, development activities must balance economic, social and ecological factors. Forests are a unique resource for accomplishing this balance because of their capacity to respond to multiple economic, social and ecological needs and challenges, and because of their renewability.
Forests provide food and energy
Close to 350 million of the world’s poorest people, including 60 million indigenous people, depend almost entirely on forests for their subsistence and survival (FAO, 2012a). They include the most disadvantaged and vulnerable – and often the politically weakest – people in society. For them, forests are an important source of food and medicine; for example, hunting and fishing on forested land supplies more than one-fifth of protein requirements in around 60 developing countries (Mery et al., 2005). Moreover, forests provide many of the raw materials used by local entrepreneurs. In Cameroon, for example, small forest enterprises based on honey, the bark of Prunus africana, bush mango (Irvingia species) and gum Arabic (based on Acacia senegal) have enabled many local people to earn cash income that may subsequently be used to purchase food, fuel and other critical goods (FAO, 2012b).
In addition to improving food security, forests play an important role in slowing and reversing land degradation due, in large part, to their ability to replenish and increase the retention of soil nutrients. As a result, sustainable forest management and forest restoration have come to be recognized as critical approaches for addressing major food security challenges such as desertification and soil degradation. Agroforestry and silvopastoral land management both capitalize on the protective functions of trees and forests to increase food production over time (Calle, Murgueitio and Chará, 2012).
Forests also play a key role in producing fuel: for more than two billion people, wood energy is critical for cooking, heating and food preservation (i.e. smoked food products) (FAO, 2010a). Moreover, charcoal and fuelwood are often primary sources of cash for poor people living in and around forests (FAO, 2006). Significant research is under way on the use of forest biomass as a sustainable, clean high-tech energy source (FAO, 2008).
Forests contribute to job creation and improved livelihoods
Forests have come to be recognized as engines of rural economic development. In southern China, for example, forestrelated activities contribute as much as 40 percent of farm income (The World Bank, 2006). Globally, the formal forest sector accounts for nearly 1 percent of gross world product (the sum of the gross domestic products of all countries) and generates at least ten million formalsector jobs (FAO, 2010a). If employment in informal, small and local forest enterprises is considered, it is likely that more than 100 million people are employed in forest-related jobs (Macqueen, 2008).
Over time and with financial and technical support and capacity development, the increased use and marketing of wood and non-wood products will create new enterprises, more employment opportunities and increasingly secure livelihoods. Tools such as certification and ecolabelling could add to the marketability of forest products (Muthoo, 2012). A positive feedback loop could thus be created as greater local income increases consumption, which in turn would stimulate production and create further employment. Forest restoration also holds the promise of substantial job and income creation (Calle, Murgueitio and Chará, 2012; Brancalion et al., 2012).
Forests provide critical ecosystem services
Forests perform a wide range of ecosystem services. They help to regulate hydrological cycles and reduce the threat and impact of floods and drought (Daily et al., 1997), and they are home to more than 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity (WWF, 2012). Forests also play a major role in the global carbon cycle, including by storing about 289 gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass (FAO, 2010a). Further investments in sustainable forest management and forest restoration could increase the storage of carbon in forests (Skutsch and McCall, 2012). Additionally, the better integration of forestry and farming is rapidly coming to be understood as a significant component of ensuring sustainable agriculture and food security. For example, transitioning from traditional agriculture to agroforestry has the potential to sequester up to 25 additional tonnes of carbon per hectare (ha) per year (Matta, 2009; see also Brancalion et al., 2012). Forests can also help put wastewater to productive use (Del Lungo, 2012).
Forests supply an array of products
Forest ecosystems provide a variety of wood and non-wood products that are intrinsically natural and recyclable and are often reusable and biodegradable. There is great potential for the increased use of such products, for example in “green” buildings and other infrastructure, as recyclable car and computer parts and in foods, medicines and cosmetics. The increased and innovative use of forest products could lead to dramatic changes in the way we lead our lives. Increased prosperity and the growing demand for more sustainable consumption and lifestyles is likely to create increased demand for sustainably produced products. Given that forest-based products can so simply and readily respond to such demand, the importance of forests to both producers and consumers is likely to be increasingly demonstrated.
Forests foster healthier and more livable cities
Forests are important for our cultural, aesthetic and recreational fulfillment. With more leisure time and discretionary income, interest among urban-dwellers in the recreational use of forests has increased dramatically; for example, as much as onehalf of world tourism is nature-based (FAO, 2012a). Urban residents can be affected by forest loss if it leads to an increased incidence of flood or drought or a decline in urban water quality. Trees can further help urban dwellers by mitigating the “heatisland” effect – the phenomenon whereby urban areas are hotter than surrounding rural areas. Urban forestry serves an important role in regulating temperature within cities (FAO, 2002), and has also assisted in water management and the creation and expansion of urban and peri-urban green spaces and recreation areas. It has even been linked to a reduction in crime in inner-city areas (Kuo and Sullivan, 2001).
Forests mitigate and lessen the impacts of disasters
Forests can provide a means of mitigating and coping with shocks resulting from catastrophic events. For example, there is considerable evidence that coastal forests can reduce the impacts of cyclones and other disastrous events and thereby lessen damage to property and reduce the loss of life (Braatz et al., 2006). Such crises can lead to the creation of forestry programmes that benefit local populations in the long run. Mexico’s programme of payments for hydrological services, which provides financial incentives to landowners to maintain forest cover in critical watersheds, was established primarily in response to severe drought conditions and water scarcity (Munoz et al., 2008). In China, devastating floods along the Yangtze River spurred the government to initiate the Sloping Land Conversion Programme, which set out to convert 14.7 million ha of croplands to forest (Bennet and Xu, 2005).
Bennett, M.T. & Xu, J. 2005. China’s sloping land conversion program: institutional innovation or business as usual? Paper presented at the ZEF–CIFOR workshop on payments for environmental services in developed and developing countries, Titisee, Germany, 15–18 June 2005.
Braatz, S., Fortuna, S., Broadhead, J. & Leslie, R. eds. 2006. Coastal protection in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami: What role for forests and trees? Proceedings of the FAO Regional Technical Workshop, Khao Lak, Thailand, 28–31 August 2006.
Brancalion, P.H.S., Viani, R.A.G., Strassburg, B.B.N. & Rodrigues, R.R. 2012. Making money from forest restoration. Unasylva, 239: 41–50 (this edition).
Calle, Z., Murgueitio, E. & Chará, J. 2012. Integrating forestry, sustainable cattle-ranching and landscape restoration. Unasylva, 239: 31–40 (this edition).
Daily, G., Alexander, S., Ehrlich, P., Goulder, L., Lubchenco, J., Matson, P., Mooney, H., Postel, S., Schneider, S., Tilman, D. & Woodwell, G. 1997. Ecosystem services: benefits supplied to human societies by natural ecosystems. Issues in Ecology, 2: 2. Available at: cfpub.epa.gov/watertrain/ pdf/issue2.pdf.
Dasgupta, C. 2011. Reflections on the relationship between the “green economy” and sustainable development. In: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development The road to Rio+20 for a development-led green economy. Geneva, Switzerland (also available at: www.unctad. org/en/docs/ditcted20108_en.pdf).
Del Lungo, A. 2012. Sustainable forest irrigation in arid and semi-arid zones. Unasylva, 239: 63–64 (this edition).
FAO. 2002. Trees outside of forests: towards a better awareness. FAO Conservation Guide 35. Available at: www.fao.org/docrep/005/ y2328e/y2328e01.htm#TopOfPage.
FAO. 2006. Better forestry, less poverty: a practitioner’s guide. FAO Forestry Paper No. 149. Rome (also available at: http://www. fao.org/docrep/009/a0645e/a0645e00.htm).
FAO. 2008. Forests and energy: key issues. FAO Forestry Paper No. 154. Rome (also available at: www.fao.org/docrep/010/ i0139e/i0139e00.htm).
FAO. 2010a. Global forest resources assessment 2010. Rome (also available at: www.fao.org/forestry/fra2010).
FAO. 2010b. Communicating the role of forests in sustainable development: the International Year of Forests (2011). Document presented at the 20th Session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO). Rome. Available at: www. fao.org/docrep/meeting/019/k8772e.pdf.
FAO. 2012a. State of the world’s forests 2012. Rome (also available at: www.fao.org/ docrep/016/i3010e/i3010e00.htm).
FAO. 2012b. Projects, Central Africa, Cameroon. Community-based forest enterprise development. Available at: www. fao.org/forestry/enterprises/45716/en/.
Kuo, F. & Sullivan, W. 2001. Crime in the inner city: does vegetation reduce crime? Environment and Behavior, 33(3) 343–367. DOI: 10.1177/0013916501333002.
Macqueen, D. 2008. Supporting small forest enterprises: a cross-sectoral review of best practice. London, UK, International Institute for Environment and Development (also available at http://pubs.iied.org/ pdfs/13548IIED.pdf).
Matta, J.R. 2009. Rebuilding rural India: potential for further investments in forestry and green jobs. Unasylva, 60(233): 36–41.
Mery, G., Alfaro, R., Kanninen, M. & Lobovikov, M., eds. 2005. Forests in the global balance: changing paradigms. IUFRO World Series 17. Helsinki, International Union of Forest Research Organizations.
Muthoo, M. 2012. Forest certification and the green economy. Unasylva, 239: 17–23 (this edition).
Skutsch, M. & McCall, M.K. 2012. The role of community forest management in REDD+. Unasylva, 239: 51–56 (this edition).
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This article was excerpted from the original with the kind permission of the publisher from:
Matta, J.R. and L. Schweitzer Meins. 2012. Repositioning forests in development. In: Sarre, A. (ed.) The power of forests, Unasylva (FAO), v. 63 (no. 239). FAO, Rome. p. 3-8.
Jagannadha Rao Matta is Forestry Officer, FAO, Rome. Laura Schweitzer Meins is a forestry expert; her work for this article was supported by the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
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