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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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7 September 2015

XIV World Forest Congress

Opening Statement 


Your Excellency Prince Laurent of the Kingdom of Belgium,

Your Excellency Mr. Senzo Mchunu, Premier of Kwazulu-Natal,

Your Excellency Mr. Senzeni Zokwana, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of the Republic of South Africa,

Your Excellency Madam Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union,

Your Excellencies, Ministers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by warmly thanking the Government of the Republic of South Africa for hosting this 14th World Forestry Congress, the largest global gathering on forests, being held on the African continent for the first time.

I would also like to thank this beautiful city of Durban for its hospitality and the Mayor of Durban for his presence in this opening session.

I would also like to thank the moderator and the people working behind the scenes in the organization of this Congress. 

The theme of this Congress, “Forests and people: investing in a sustainable future”, points to a pressing global need.

Many of the major challenges facing the world today came to the fore during recent negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda.

Chief among these is the need to eradicate hunger and poverty by 2030, while ensuring lasting protection for our planet’s natural resources.

Forests, which cover one-third of the world’s land area, have a crucial role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, to be adopted by the international community later this month in New York.

We cannot meet our future challenges without preserving our forests.

They are home to over three quarters of the world´s terrestrial biodiversity, which represent an irreplaceable genetic resource for the future development of agriculture.

Forests also support agriculture by keeping water catchments healthy, providing habitats for pollinators, and offering protection against climatic extremes.

When managed sustainably, they sequester carbon, thus mitigating climate change.

Millions of people depend on forests, and on the plants and animals that dwell in them, to meet their needs for food, energy and shelter.

Forests also generate employment, and they are the basis for improving the rural livelihoods of millions of small enterprises.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The facts that I have just mentioned show us the critical importance of forests.

Yet if we want forests to continue to make these and other contributions to our planet, we must first of all ensure that forests have a future.

In this context, we are launching today FAO’s latest Global Forest Resources Assessment, the FRA 2015.

This document shows us that the world’s forests are continuing to shrink, with some 129 million hectares of forest being lost since 1990.

This area of lost forests is almost equivalent in size to this country, South Africa, just to give you an idea.

But the document, which builds on existing data and is more comprehensive and reliable than ever before, also provides figures that must encourage us to step up our efforts to safeguard forests in a sustainable way.

First of all, while the rate of net global deforestation continues to be positive, it has slowed down by more than a half over the past 25 years.

In addition, an increasing amount of forest areas have come under protection, while more countries are adopting or improving sustainable forest management practices.

We have been protecting our forests better. About 13 percent of the world’s forests - more than half a billion hectares, an area larger than the territories of the two largest African countries (Algeria and DRC) - are now designated primarily for biodiversity conservation.

According to FRA2015, Africa reports its highest increase in protected areas in the last five years. I want to compliment the African Ministers of Forestry who are attending this meeting. This is quite an achievement.

This is often done through legislation, and includes the measuring and monitoring of forest resources.

It also increasingly involves local communities in planning and developing policies.

The report will be presented to you later today and we will give more details about it. 

One of the aims of this Congress is to build a new way of thinking and acting to ensure a vibrant future for forests, forestry and the forest-dependent communities. 

Working together, we hope we can seize this opportunity.

I wish you a fruitful week and debates.

Thank you for your attention.