State of the World’s Forests 2014 – Key findings

The FAO report – State of the World’s Forests – systematically presents available data on forests’ contributions to people’s livelihoods, food, health, shelter and energy needs. 

Crucially,the report also suggests how information might be improved and policies adjusted, so that the socioeconomic benefits from forests can be enhanced in the future. 

The socioeconomic benefits from forests are mostly derived from the consumption of forest goods and services

The number of people that use forest outputs to meet their needs for food, energy and shelter is in the billions. In addition, large (but currently unknown) numbers may benefit indirectly from the environmental services provided by forests. The number of people that benefit from income and employment generation is relatively small, although if informal activities are included, this nevertheless reaches the tens – if not hundreds – of millions.


The formal forest sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and at least another 41 million are employed in the informal sector

Informal employment in forestry is often not captured in national statistics, but the estimates presented in SOFO 2014 show that it is significant in less developed regions. It is also estimated that some 840 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, collect woodfuel and charcoal for their own use.


Wood energy is often the only energy source in rural areas of less developed countries and is particularly important for poor people

It accounts for 27 percent of total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 percent in Asia and Oceania. However it is also increasingly used in developed countries with the aim of reducing dependence on fossil fuels. For example, about 90 million people in Europe and North America now use wood energy as their main source of domestic heating.


Forest products make a significant contribution to the shelter of at least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the world’s population

Forest products are used in the construction of peoples’ homes all over the world. The recorded number of people living in homes where forest products are the main materials used for walls, roofs or floors is about 1 billion in Asia and Oceania and 150 million in Africa. However, as this estimate is based on only partial information, the true number could be much higher.


A major contribution of forests to food security and health is the provision of woodfuel to cook and sterilize water

It is estimated that about 2.4 billion people cook with woodfuel, or about 40 percent of the population of less developed countries. In addition, 764 million of these people may also boil their water with wood. Collection of edible non-wood forest products also supports food security and provides essential nutrients for many people.


To measure the socioeconomic benefits from forests, data collection must focus on people, not only trees

With the exception of formal employment figures, forestry administrations have little information on how many people benefit from forests, and the data available is often weak. Current data collection, which focuses on forests and trees, needs to be complemented by data collection on the benefits that people receive. This is best done by collaborating with public organizations undertaking such surveys.


Forest policies must explicitly address forests’ role in providing food, energy and shelter

Many countries have made great progress in strengthening forest tenure and access rights and supporting forest user groups. Yet there still appears to be a major disconnect between a policy focus on formal forest sector activities and the huge numbers of people using forests to meet their needs for food, energy and shelter.


Recognition of the value of forest services, such as erosion protection and pollination, is essential to sound decision-making

If the value of services provided is not measured or recognized, economic and policy decisions affecting forests will be based on incomplete and biased information. This is critical for the sustainable provision of many services, from essential services for food security and agricultural productivity such as erosion protection and pollination, to recreation and other amenities that forests provide to people.


To meet rising and changing demands, sustainable forest management must include more efficient production

Demand for many of the benefits derived from the consumption of forest products is likely to continue to increase as populations increase, and change as lifestyles change, whether due to the emerging middle class, the global shift to predominantly urban living, or other factors. These demands will have to be met from a static or declining resource. To avoid significantly degrading this resource, more efficient production techniques must be adopted, including in the informal sector.


Providing people with access to forest resources and markets is a powerful way to enhance socioeconomic benefits

Countries are providing people with greater access to forest resources and markets, amongst many other measures to encourage the provision of goods and services. This is particularly effective at local levels. The facilitation of producer organizations can support access to markets and more inclusive and efficient production.


To make real progress in enhancing the socioeconomic benefits from forests, policies must be underpinned by capacity building

Numerous policies and measures to promote sustainable forest management have been developed since 2007, including a trend towards incorporating sustainable forest management (SFM) as a broad national goal, increasing stakeholder participation, and greater openness to voluntary and market-based approaches. Yet implementation capacity remains weak in many countries.


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