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Forests are critical resources in halting poverty (downtoearth)

Many Asian countries are witnessing the destruction of forests, giving rise to apprehension that one of the key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may not be achieved by 2030.

The Goal 15 of SDGs aims to “sustainably manage forests”, along with protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; combating desertification; halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss.

According to Patrick Durst, senior forestry officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in Asia and the Pacific region, forests continue to be degraded and lost at a rate of 3.3 million hectares per year.

The main reason is the conversion of forests into agriculture lands. A book argues that in Southeast Asia, pulp and paper, timber and palm oil are the major contributors to deforestation. Infrastructure development, housing, mining and forest fires also pose a threat to the region’s forests.

Managing forests

Forests need to be managed in a sustainable manner to deliver economic, ecological and social benefits for the current generation without compromising on the ability of future generations to enjoy the same benefits.

“We have seen that balancing the economic, social and ecological do not always go hand in hand. This has a lot to do with poor governance in many countries, resulting in over exploitation, illegal activities and ignoring the multiple benefits of forests. What we need is to follow sustainable forest management principles. Sustainable forest management in theory will address both biodiversity loss and poverty reduction,” Yurdi Yasmi, forest policy officer at FAO, says.

Forests play a vital role in securing rural livelihoods through generating income in the form of goods and environmental services. According to the SOFO report, forests can also serve as safety nets during food-scarce periods.

Generating income

Forests contribute to local incomes, which is important in modern cash economies. The gross value added in the forest sector in Asia stands at US $260 billion coming from the formal forestry sector alone such as logging industries’ production of lumber, wood-based panels and pulp and paper. This represents 1.1 per cent of Asia’s GDP, an expert says.

Income from the “informal” sector is difficult to measure, but estimates suggest that income from non-wood forest products alone contributes to as much as US $88 billion annually in the Asia-Pacific region.

FAO estimates that globally 750 million people live in or near forests and an additional 500 million live in open savannas with scattered trees and woodlands. For these people, forests are the local supermarket, a place for food items, construction materials, and medicines.

According to Yasmi, every effort should be made to engage poor and forest-dependent people in commercial forestry by creating more job opportunities and allocating forests for sustainable commercial management.

In many areas, degraded forests need to be rehabilitated for soil conservation and carbon sequestration. Locals should be employed in these efforts as part of income generation for the poor.

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