SALINE, Michigan—Earlier this week in June 2014, the United Nation’s affiliated Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published its annual State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) report, which it titled “Enhancing the socioeconomic benefits from forests.”
Among other things, the report discusses the impact forests have on people’s lives all over the globe, identifies forests as a tremendously powerful poverty reduction tool, and calls on the U.N. to make forests a bigger priority in its upcoming post-2015 agenda. Forests cover over a third of the world’s land, and it is estimated that over 1.5 billion people rely on forests for their survival and over three billion people need wood to cook their food and heat their homes, especially in less-developed countries.
In addition to aiding the large number of families that currently depend on forests, supporting the sustainable use of forests can also help lift families out of poverty by providing them with cheap products to cook food, create shelters and do business. However, in order for forests to be successful poverty-reduction tools, sustainable development must be emphasized. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000 by the international community as a U.N.-led poverty reduction framework, are nearing their deadline of 2015. Forests were only explicitly mentioned in the MDGs once despite their high potential to help lift people out of poverty and their influence in people’s lives.
With the U.N.’s current plan of centering its next framework on sustainability, making forests more central seems appropriate. This year’s SOFO report names a lack of detailed research as the reason behind the absence of forests in the MDGs, but recognizes that the current discussions about the U.N.’s post-2015 plans provide “a great opportunity to properly recognize the role of forests in sustainable development, especially their socioeconomic contributions. SOFO 2014 aims to assist in seizing this opportunity by compiling, analysing and making available existing information on the socioeconomic benefits of forests from a variety of sources, many of them outside the forest sector.”
This research is synthesized in the report into a short list of significant findings. One of the most astounding conclusions is that billions of people around the world depend on forest-derived goods for food, energy or shelter and that most of these people live in less-developed countries, a number much higher than was previously estimated.
This data now empirically demonstrates that a substantial portion of the world’s population uses forests to survive and to thrive economically; therefore, supporting forest activities through protection in policy and advocating for the sustainable use of forests as a poverty-reduction method would aid billions of people.
SOFO 2014, however, finds little to no link between this massive number of people dependent on forest goods and international policy. While numerous countries have taken steps to protect and sustainably manage official forest practices, little attention is given to the much larger amount of people who unofficially depend on forests for their livelihoods. In order to maximize the socioeconomic benefits forests provide, the report sees policy shifts as a step in the right direction, calling for “a change in perspective, with less focus on the state as the guardian of forest resources (often defending forests from the people) and more on the needs and preferences of people and society.”
Some countries have already taken a step in this direction. The United Nations Forum on Forests was held in April, in which participating countries acknowledged “that the failure to better conserve and sustainably manage all types of forests may put at risk the achievement of other internationally agreed development goals, such as those related to food security, water, biodiversity, climate change, poverty alleviation, energy and human well-being.”
Thanks to efforts from organizations like the FAO and the research published in SOFO 2014, the tremendous impact forests have on people’s lives and their power to help reduce poverty are now better understood, which will hopefully lead to forests having a more central role in the U.N.’s post-2015 agenda.
– Emily Jablonski
Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations
Photo: School Net for the Forests