Wildlife & Biodiversity

Sustainable forestry paramount for biodiversity conservation: FAO

Report finds weak governance, law enforcement biggest stumbling blocks

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Friday 07 October 2022
Forests are home to most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Forests are home to most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Forests are home to most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Forests that are managed primarily for economic benefits are critical for biodiversity conservation, a United Nations report said. 

Mainstreaming biodiversity in such ‘production forests’ is paramount, said Mainstreaming biodiversity in forestry by the UN body Food and Agriculture Organization. 

Embedding biodiversity considerations into policies, strategies and practices of key public and private actors to promote the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources is called ‘mainstreaming biodiversity’.

Weak governance and law enforcement are the biggest stumbling blocks behind biodiversity conservation in protected areas, the report found.  

Read more: FAO report forecasts spike in wood-based substitutes to non-renewables; expects 1 million new jobs

The role of forests in maintaining biodiversity is explicitly recognised by the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017–2030. In 2019, FAO adopted the Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across Agricultural Sectors.

Forests cover 31 per cent of the world’s land surface, store an estimated 296 gigatonnes of carbon and are home to most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, a press release shared by FAO stated.

FAO’s forestry statutory body, Committee on Forestry (COFO), had asked FAO to review biodiversity mainstreaming in forestry in its 25th session in 2020. It had asked the UN body to share good practices on solutions that balance conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity.

The report was released October 6, 2022, at the 8th World Forest Week on the sidelines of the 26th session of COFO taking place in Rome, Italy, from October 3-7, 2022.

It was produced through a partnership between FAO and the non-profit Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the lead centre of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. CGIAR is a global partnership that unites international organisations engaged in research about food security.

The world’s forests provide habitats for about 80 per cent of amphibian species, 75 per cent of bird species and 68 per cent of mammal species. In addition, about 60 per cent of all vascular plants occur in tropical forests.

Read more: Saving a disappearing forest with the feather of a bird: Cameroon’s unique conservation story

But forests and their biodiversity continue to be lost at an alarming rate, the report said. 

Deforestation is the greatest driver of the loss of valuable biodiversity, with around 10 million hectares lost to deforestation each year, mainly for agricultural expansion. Other threats include over-harvesting of timber, invasive species, climate change, desertification and forest fires.

The report recommended various measures and actions that governments and development partners can take to facilitate the mainstreaming of biodiversity in forest management: 

  • Halting and reversing deforestation
  • Combating illegal and unregulated forest activities
  • Recognising the forest tenure of Indigenous Peoples and local communities
  • Preventing the conversion of natural forests into monospecific forest plantations
  • Ensuring the sustainable management of harvested species
  • Managing and controlling invasive and overabundant species
  • Leveraging global momentum on restoration to enhance biodiversity conservation
  • Adopting a multisectoral perspective
  • Providing economic incentives
  • Facilitating market-based instruments
  • Investing in knowledge and capacity development

Mainstreaming biodiversity in forestry involves prioritising forest policies, plans, programmes, projects and investments that have a positive impact on biodiversity at the ecosystem, species and genetic levels.

Biodiversity mainstreaming in the forest sector requires integrated multi-stakeholder approaches that cross-sectoral boundaries.

Deputy Director of FAO’s Forestry Division Tiina Vahanen said: 

We hope that the wealth of information and suggestions included in this study will inspire relevant actors in the forest sector to further strengthen the management of forests for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The report assessed tools and methods of ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is integrated into forest policy, strategy and management.

Read more: Stuck in semantics: How confusions over forest land definitions keep benefits away from forest dwellers

Through a series of case studies from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Finland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (a case from Scotland), the report explored lessons learnt and identified good practices.

These country case studies showed that, on the one hand, much progress has been made towards mainstreaming biodiversity in production forest management. On the other hand, biodiversity continues to decline globally.

According to the report, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the involvement of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and the private sector in biodiversity management should be a priority and laws, policies and national strategies for biodiversity conservation should take into account forests other than protected areas.

The study found that in Ethiopia, there are some important gaps, such as a lack of documentation on species that should be protected and inadequate definitions of institutional mandates and instruments for cross-sectoral collaboration.

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