Sustainable forest management worldwide

FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation) surveys show that between 2010 and 2015 the global loss of natural forest land - mainly tropical forests - amounted to approx. 9 million hectares per year, representing a decline compared to previous years.

In addition, a significant amount of land was reforested (2.5 million ha per year) or covered by forests through natural growth (3 million ha per year). Satellite images, however, indicate that the natural forest area lost might be even bigger. The main reasons for the destruction of tropical forests are: the conversion to other types of land use such as, for instance, for the production of palm oil, soya or meat; forest fires (often caused by human activities); and non-sustainable or even illegal logging operations. This last cause, which often results in a deterioration of the forest condition, is frequently only a first step that is then followed by a complete clearance and subsequent conversion into farmland.

The conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests is one of the main challenges facing the international community. Many people, and often particularly the poorest, are directly dependent on forests to supply food, medicine, building material and energy. International forestry policy needs sound scientific information in order to adopt incentives for a sustainable management of forests.

Food from the forest

The role that forests and in particular tropical forests play for nutrition is widely unknown to the general public. Their role is clearly reflected on the local and regional markets in the tropics which in many cases offer wide ranges of fruit and products from many different trees and shrubs. Some of these products also make it to our domestic markets, often without their forest origin being known. People are only aware of this link to forests in respect of some of the more well-known products, such as cocoa. Who, for example, knows that cashew nuts, a very popular food, originate from tropical forests?

The potential that tropical forests have for providing valuable sources of nutrition is threatened due to the gradual destruction of these forests, but also due to the over-exploitation of their products. After all approx. 1.6 billion people worldwide are directly dependant on forests. The more people become aware of, and acknowledge, the additional importance this entails for forests, the higher the chances are that forests will be protected. These measures therefore also contribute to the fight against poverty, to the protection of biological diversity and to sustainable development in the countries concerned.

With targeted Projects in the Congo Basin, the BMEL has, in recent years, supported concepts that sharpen the focus of forestry, food and agricultural policy planning, and regulatory projects in the producer countries, on this often neglected food source. In order to integrate the results from this and similar projects into political processes, the BMEL and FAO organised the Forestry and Food Security Conference which developed policy recommendations. This has led to the FAO Committee on World Food Security addressing the topic of food from forests in one of its programmes.

Forest management in developing countries and emerging economies - strengthening families and village communities

African farmer working in the field Source: Renate W. -

More than 30 percent of forests in developing countries are owned, managed and conserved by local groups, village communities or families. For some years now the importance of this small-scale forest management has been increasing in a growing number of tropical forests, and also in China as a result of the large-scale land reforms. It is the result of these countries granting greater freedom over the use of forests to a growing section of the population, for example through land reforms, extension of local rights or the creation of new utilisation rights.

This contributes to improving the living conditions, nutrition and income situation of people living in rural areas all around the world. For it is the poorest strata of societies, in particular, that often source food, building material and household goods directly from the forest. They can also generate income from the sale of forest products. Following the basic principle of "Protection through use", the destruction of the forest can be contained by presenting livelihood alternatives and promoting the population's own interest in the conservation of the forests. This then gives efforts to protect forests the necessary "backbone".

However, due to their location, small-forest owners often live and work in isolation - from one another as well as from markets, infrastructure and access to information. Voluntary cooperation or cooperatives often provide a successful way of giving these people, and thus ultimately the forests, a stronger voice in national landuse policies.

In 2013 the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), initiated an international project on forest management in emerging and developing countries which focuses on people whose livelihoods depend on forests as a resource. A conference entitled "Strength in numbers" was held in Guilin in Southern China to launch the project. Around 140 participants from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe discussed how to strengthen the role of forest self-help organisations worldwide in order to improve the living and food situations in these rural areas, situations which are often characterised by poverty and depopulation. Private forest owners and representatives of associations from various parts of the world shared their experiences and also talked about their difficulties when establishing regional self-help organisations. In the past 5 years, the host country China alone transferred forest ownership to more than 90 million families through a large-scale land reform. At the same time approx. 115,000 cooperatives were founded.

In the course of the project, the experiences already made around the world are to be collected, exchanged and distributed. The BMEL will provide 1 million Euros in support over the next two years.

This project is being supported as part of "Carlowitz Year 2013" in order to commemorate the concept of sustainable forest management, which Hans Carl von Carlowitz described in detail for the first time and introduced in Saxony 300 years ago.

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