Make forestry policies people-centric, says FAO

UN agency’s latest state of the forests report says poverty alleviation and rural employment should be the ulterior driving force in amending old forest policies

By Midhat Moini
Published: Tuesday 24 June 2014


Recognising the role of forests in providing livelihood to people, UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has asked nations to formulate people-centric forest policies. “It is time for forestry to shift perspective from trees to people,” says FAO’s annual “The State of the World’s Forests” report released on June 23.

The report estimates that around 44.2 million people are employed in the forest sector.  People in the world are directly or indirectly dependent on forests for food, energy, shelter or livelihood.  As many as 840 million people (12 per cent of total population) collect wood fuel for their household use from forests. Wood energy is an important source of energy in lesser developed regions. Wood energy provides over half of all energy supply of 29 countries out of which 22 are in Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this figure is 13 per cent and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania. Forests also provide edible Non-Wood Forest Products (NWFP). About 10.9 kg of NWFP is the average per capita consumption  globally. These include fruits and herbs which are used for medicinal purposes in some areas.

Places where other building materials are expensive and unaffordable forest products come handy in providing shelter. One out every five people live in a house built mainly of wood. Across the world forest products contribute to the households of almost 1.3 billion people (roughly 18 per cent of the total population).

Forest benefits
The income of the forest sector is US $ 730 billion which is 1.1per cent of the total economy. The report estimates that 0.4 per cent of the global workforce (13.2 million people) is employed in the formal forest sector. The industry of solid wood products is the largest employer ( 5. 5 million people). The second largest employer is the pulp and paper industry ( 4.3 million people) and  the third is the wood production industry (3.5 million people).

Despite the huge benefits the forest provide to the local people, the needs and concerns of the people have not been catered to in the forest policies of most of the countries, points out the report.  An analysis of 121 countries’ policies by the FAO shows that most countries provide a “dominant technical paradigm” for forest management rather than a “people oriented one”. Since 2007, only 26 countries have formulated policies to reform the land tenures in the forests to support local livelihoods in a better way.

The report suggests new policies should be undertaken and poverty and rural employment should be the ulterior driving force in amending the old forest policies. Providing affordable and reliable access to finance for local and indigenous communities should also be a priority. The report highlights that the countries in Latin America and Caribbean region have done a good job and taken measures to increase local people’s access to forest resources and market.

The report also recognises the importance of Traditional Forest Related Knowledge (TFRK). These traditional knowledge and practices benefit local communities and beyond and should be encouraged, it says.

The final key messages of the report states that in order to measure completely the socio economic benefits from forest data collection should focus on people’s livelihoods and forests. Thus, the government policies should be primarily focused on people who are benefiting from the forests (food, energy, shelter) rather than the formal forest sector. “We should stimulate new ideas on the multiple relationships between people and forests and how can we work together on their (forests) advancement in order to promote food security and sustainable development should be understood,” suggests Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO director general

Some highlights from the report
• 2.4 billion people cook with wood fuel
• Around 60 countries have taken measures to encourage forest investment since 2007
• Asia accounts for over 50% of the formal forest sector
• 2.6 billion people cook with wood fuel.
• 764 million also use wood to boil their water

FAO Report: State of the world's forests 2014: enhancing the socioeconomic benefits from forests

Report: Forest peoples: numbers across the world

Report: India State of Forest Report 2011

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