Rome, Italy, 15-19 March 2005


Table of Contents


1. World leaders adopted the Millennium Declaration at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. The Declaration consolidates the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), reinforcing goals agreed in world summits and global conferences held during the 1990s, including the World Food Summit. Each of the eight MDGs (see box 1) has numerical targets to be achieved by the year 2015. Indicators have been identified for the targets to monitor progress. The proportion of land area covered by forest globally is one of the indicators for the seventh MDG.

Box 1: UN Millennium Development Goals
  1. Eradication of extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development
2.  In addition to quantitative, time-bound targets, the Millennium Declaration calls for other actions, including intensified efforts for “the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests”, an international commitment to sustainable forest management made in 1992 at the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and embodied in the Forest Principles and Chapter 11 of Agenda 21. Subsequent intergovernmental deliberations to promote progress towards sustainable forest management took place in the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) from 1995 to 2000, and continue in the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) as well as in other fora.

3. The recognition at UNCED of the connection between sustainable forest management and sustainable development was reinforced ten years later at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. There, countries stated that the achievement of sustainable forest management “is an essential goal of sustainable development” and that it is “a critical means to eradicate poverty, significantly reduce deforestation, halt the loss of forest biodiversity and land and resource degradation and improve food security and access to safe drinking water and affordable energy …”.

4. This document examines the contribution of forests -- referring collectively to natural and planted forests, other wooded lands and trees outside forests -- to the achievement of the MDGs. It underscores the need to increase international commitment and action towards sustainable forest management as a vehicle for sustainable development.

Forests and the Millennium Development Goals

5. Forests play a role, directly or indirectly, in most of the MDGs through their multiple social, economic and environmental functions. This document focuses on the two goals to which forests make the most direct contribution: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

6. The indirect contributions of forests to other MDGs are, however, worth noting. Forests help reduce child mortality and improve maternal health by improving food security and access to natural medicines. Forest-derived income helps enable rural families to send their children to primary school. Gender-sensitive forest programmes around the world are helping to empower women and improve their access to forest-derived benefits. Various forest-related measures are also being taken to mitigate the negative impacts of HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

7. Much has been written about the poverty-deforestation relationship; in many places, poverty (including food insecurity) is an underlying cause of deforestation and forest degradation. More recently, attention has been paid to the links between forests and poverty reduction and between forests and food security. Tens of millions of people depend on forests as a major source of subsistence and cash income, while hundreds of millions of people depend on forests to supplement their livelihoods (Angelsen and Wunder, 2003).

8. Forests and trees outside forests produce wood for fuel and other purposes (e.g. construction materials, furniture, paper, etc.) and a wide range of non-wood forest products (e.g., bushmeat, fodder, fibres, oils and medicines, etc.) for subsistence use and for sale in local markets. Forests can provide crucial safety nets, keeping many poor rural people from sinking deeper into poverty or serving as a lifeline in times of emergency (see summary in FAO, 2003).

9. Forests have the potential to help people rise out of poverty, for example through securing forest-based employment and developing small-scale forest enterprises. An estimated 12.9 million people are employed in the industrial forest sector, and analyses by the International Labour Organization indicate that twice that many (in particularly from the poorer sectors of society) may be expected to be involved in the informal sector (e.g., in the collection and sale of fuelwood and non-wood forest products) (Lebedys, 2004).

10. Payment for environmental services from forests is emerging as a possible source of income, but how large and widespread the transfers will be (and the degree to which poor people will benefit) is still uncertain. This potentially important area merits further development.

11. Failure to achieve environmental stability will undermine social and economic development efforts. Forests play critical roles in sustaining the health of the environment by mitigating climate change, conserving biological diversity, maintaining clean and reliable water resources, controlling erosion, protecting agricultural soils, sustaining and enhancing land productivity, protecting coastal and marine resources, providing low cost and renewable energy, and enhancing the urban environment. These environmental services are well documented and their social benefits quite well understood, but the means to capture their economic values are as yet underdeveloped.

12. It is important to consider not only the environmental services that forests provide, but what the environmental impacts might be if the supply of forest goods decreased. Wood is a source of renewable energy and construction and packing materials. Substitutes for these are not as environmentally friendly.

13. The contributions of trees outside forests, including in agroforestry systems, to the reduction of poverty and hunger, environmental sustainability and other MDGs have been less thoroughly analyzed than those of forests, but are clearly significant (Garrity, 2004). Rural dwellers around the world rely on trees on farms and in silvopastoral systems for both production and protection. Trees on farmlands, in grazing systems and scattered in the landscape are a source of products for subsistence use and for sale. Trees contribute to food security and poverty alleviation by improving agricultural productivity, diversifying income and reducing risk. Improved understanding of the role of trees outside forests, particularly in agroforestry systems, to poverty alleviation, food security and environmental sustainability is needed, and agroforestry should be a recognized part of countries’ strategies and programmes to achieve the MDGs.

Issues and Opportunities for Forest-Based Action

14. Strategies for targeting poverty reduction through the forest sector have been identified by various organizations and in recent meetings. “The Forum on How Forests can Reduce Poverty”, a meeting organized in 2001 by FAO, with the support of the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), outlined ways in which trees and forests can contribute to food security and poverty reduction
Box 2: Agenda for action: poverty reduction through forests
  1. Strengthening rights, capabilities and governance to benefit the poor
  2. Reducing vulnerability of the poor
  3. Capturing emerging opportunities, e.g. improving access to markets
  4. Working in partnerships and enhancing participatory processes.
(FAO, 2001). The meeting developed a four-point “Agenda for  Action” to address the barriers preventing the poor from benefiting from forests and forest resources (see box 2).

15. The MDGs call for the integration of the principles of sustainable development into environmental

policies. Environmental sustainability is being mainstreamed in forest policies around the world, particularly since UNCED, while the integration of the goals of poverty and hunger reduction in forest policies and plans is less widespread.

16. Community-based forestry, or participatory forestry, is particularly well placed to address poverty reduction. Community-based forestry is now well accepted and established in various countries in all regions, and programmes are beginning to generate financial and other benefits. Improving local peoples’ rights and access to forest resources is a to the success of community-based forestry programmes. However, much still remains to be done to clarify and secure access rights. Many countries are working to strengthen forest governance, some through decentralization processes that allow the poor to derive more benefits from forests and be more involved in decision-making and forest management itself.

17. Although improving rights and access to forest resources and developing small-holder forest-based enterprises (including through community-private sector partnerships) show particular promise for poverty reduction, local political and economic realities, opportunity costs for the use of local resources, and other factors may prevent the poor from benefiting from community-based forestry programmes to the extent intended. This highlights the need for policies and programmes explicitly targeting the poor. However, there are few examples of strategic approaches and methodologies that are designed specifically to improve the way that forestry can address poverty reduction or prevention (Gilmour et al., 2004).

18. While progress has been made in incorporating sustainable development goals into forest sector policies and planning, the integration of forests and agroforestry into national sustainable development plans is less advanced. Forests and agroforestry are overlooked or feature weakly in most national Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), key planning mechanisms at the country level for implementing the MDGs. Forest departments often have limited involvement in the development of PRSPs and in other sustainable development plans. The forest sector may need to develop more rigorous analyses of the links between forests and trees to market itself as an important element in poverty reduction strategies, and to be more proactive at national level in the PRSP process to ensure that forest issues are considered.

19. Bilateral and multilateral organizations have been reorienting their policies and programmes to focus on the achievement of the MDGs. Major organizations, including the World Bank, have aligned their objectives and funding strategies to the MDGs, and several are largely channelling their forest sector funding to programmes that tackle poverty (Grosnow, 2003; World Bank, 2004). The limited treatment of forests in PRSPs, which help guide donor funding, acts as a deterrent to external support for the forest sector in developing countries.

20. Intersectoral coordination is important for the achievement of all MDGs, but is particularly critical for reducing poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability, which are highly cross-sectoral by nature. Improved intersectoral cooperation and coordination will help efforts both to integrate the principles of sustainable development into forest-related policies and to integrate forests into sustainable development plans.

21. Forest-based poverty reduction efforts tend to be linked to other land uses and should form a part of rural development strategies. Conversely, the potential for forests and trees outside forests to contribute to environmental sustainability cannot be fully realized without intersectoral cooperation and coordination. Intersectoral coordination, although difficult and time consuming, is necessary for sound decisions on land use and resource allocation, particularly when there are trade-offs between national development goals. For example, it is inevitable that some forest land will be converted to agriculture in order to reduce poverty and hunger, but this will have economic, environmental and social impacts. Countries need to have effective cross-sectoral planning mechanisms to identify those lands that would make a relatively greater contribution to sustainable development if converted from forest to other land uses, and to minimize the negative impacts of land cover and land use changes.

Monitoring and Assessing Progress

22. The Millennium +5 Summit, a high-level meeting scheduled to take place at UN Headquarters from 14 to 16 September 2005, will undertake a comprehensive review of progress in achieving the MDGs and fulfilling commitments made in the major UN conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields. Data on the forest-related indicator -- the proportion of land area covered by forest, will be reported in conjunction with the seventh MDG: ensure environmental sustainability. A progress report by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs includes “reverse loss of forests” as a target under that goal.1 A broader picture of the contribution of forests to sustainable development will be provided in the “storyline” for the seventh MDG. Data from FAO’s global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) will be used for the MDG forest indicator, and FAO is collaborating with other UN entities and international organizations in drafting the storyline.

23. Agreement on a measurable target on forests within the context of the MDGs could serve a variety of purposes and help boost the implementation of agreed actions on sustainable forest management. It could act as a useful reminder of the contribution of forests to sustainable development. It would provide a basis to assess and monitor progress, and thus signal whether current efforts are sufficient. It could help orient the future intergovernmental dialogue on forests by providing a means to indicate where capacity building is needed, new and additional resources would be beneficial, market access is required and new technology is essential. Within such a global target, countries could set – as many already do – their own national targets related to sustainable forest management in order to contribute to the achievement of the global target, within their national priorities and on the basis of the agreements made at the international level.

24. Data compiled by FAO provide the basis for monitoring trends in forest resources at the global level. FAO would thus be in a good position to provide technical inputs to intergovernmental efforts to establish an internationally agreed target related to forests at the global level. Intergovernmental deliberations on a forest target could take place within the international arrangement on forests. The establishment of such a target could be considered in the review of progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals carried out under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly.

25. The Provisional Agenda of the Ministerial Meeting on Forests on 14 March 2005 foresees discussion on the potential value of a forest-related target at global level. Should Ministers endorse the development of such a target, they could call upon FAO to assist in this effort. COFO may wish to provide guidance to FAO on a process for providing technical inputs to support an intergovernmental dialogue to develop a target.

FAO Forestry Support to the Millennium Development Goals

26. FAO is actively supporting the achievement of the MDGs, in particular the first and seventh goals through its work programme on forestry.

27. The over-arching priority of FAO forestry programmes is to assist countries in their efforts to undertake sustainable forest management. FAO’s work on forest management and conservation, including in mountains, drylands and other marginal areas; forest assessment and statistics; forest sector outlook studies; policy development and institution strengthening, especially through national forest programmes; community-based forestry and agroforestry; and wood and non-wood forest products contribute to this. The Regional Forestry Commissions provide a forum for countries to share knowledge and experiences. FAO’s support to regional and international processes of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management is also relevant. The Department’s information and outreach function, including through the State of the World’s Forests report and Unasylva, helps raise awareness of the contribution of sustainable forest management to the MDGs.

28. FAO’s long-standing work on promoting sustainable forest management contributes to the achievement of the seventh MDG – ensuring environmental sustainability. More recently FAO has addressed its role in enhancing the contribution of forests to the reduction of poverty and hunger. The Medium Term Plan 2006 – 2011 includes a programme entity for Forests, Poverty Alleviation and Food Security, and another for Participatory Forestry and Sustainable Livelihoods, consistent with endorsement of the FAO Council in 2002 and of COFO in 2003 of poverty alleviation as an emerging priority in the Forestry Department’s programme of work. The programmes are working through both normative activities and the field programme to promote sustainable livelihoods, poverty alleviation and food security.

29. Specific activities of the Forestry Department related to poverty reduction and which consequently help to achieve the MDGs include:

30. From an early stage, FAO’s Special Programme on Food Security recognized the role of forests in food security through contributing to agricultural productivity and through income diversification. The forest component of country activities has increased over time.

31. An Inter-Divisional Task Force on Poverty (ITP), established in March 2002 within the Forestry Department, has developed a framework for poverty reduction and collaboration on activities related to forests, poverty alleviation and food security. The Forestry Department also collaborates in the corporate FAO Livelihood Support Programme (LSP), a multi-Departmental initiative to promote good governance, adaptive multi-stakeholder policy-making processes, knowledge and information sharing on livelihood-oriented forestry, and effective communication. Six Central African countries are supported in their efforts to realize the contribution of non-wood forest products from forests and trees outside forests for food security.

32. Through its Regular Programme and in collaboration with the National Forest Programme Facility, the Forestry Department provides direct support to countries to strengthen coherence and synergies between national forest programmes and broader sustainable development policy and planning processes, and to encourage civil society participation in decisions about forests. This is a key mechanism for assisting countries to adjust their policies and strategies so as to incorporate forests into sustainable development and vice versa.

33. With the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, afforestation and reforestation projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), may also contribute to the first and seventh MDGs. FAO has begun to integrate the Protocol’s CDM into national forest programmes and makes special efforts to enable and facilitate small-scale projects.

34. At the international level, FAO, in collaboration with other partners, is playing a key role in efforts to increase commitment to and implementation of sustainable forest management through, among other things, its Chairmanship of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, an interagency partnership that enhances cooperation on forests and supports the UNFF process. FAO’s role in assisting the monitoring of progress in the MDGs is indicated above. In addition, FAO is preparing the chapter on forests in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a key regional mechanism to help Africa achieve the MDGs and effective overall development.

Guidance from the Committee on Forestry

35. The Committee on Forestry may wish to advise that, in future programmes in support of the Millennium Development Goals, FAO:

  1. implement related recommendations from the Ministerial Meeting on Forests, scheduled for 14 March 2005, including the Organization’s possible role in a process for providing technical inputs to support an intergovernmental dialogue on a forest-related target at global level;
  2. undertake analyses and disseminate information on the contribution of forests and sustainable forest management to the attainment of the MDGs;
  3. through its Regular Programme and the NFP Facility, assist countries to address MDGs in their national forest programmes, integrate forests and agroforestry into their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and rural development strategies, and strengthen intersectoral coordination;
  4. assist countries to develop strategies specifically designed to realize forests’ potential contribution to the MDGs and to develop tools for forest practitioners at the sub-national and forest management unit level to help implement them;
  5. enhance the Special Programme on Food Security as a mechanism to help countries realize the contributions of forests and trees to food security; and
  6. continue to assist the United Nations in the monitoring of progress in the achievement of the MDGs.


Angelsen, A. and Wunder, S. 2003. Exploring the forest-poverty link: key concepts, issues and research implications. CIFOR Occasional Paper No. 40.

FAO and Department for International Development, UK. 2001. How forests can reduce poverty. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 2003. State of the World’s Forests 2003. FAO, Rome.

Garrity, D. 2004. Agroforestry and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Agroforestry Systems 61: 5-17.

Gilmour, D.; Y. Malla; and M. Nurse. 2004. Linkages between community forestry and poverty. Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok.

Grosnow, J. 2003. Review of poverty alleviation through forestry activity. In: Proceedings of the FAO Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products, Oaxaca, Mexico, 8-9 May 2003.

Lebedys, A. In press. Trends and current status of the contribution of the forest sector to national economies. FAO, Rome.

World Bank. 2004. Sustaining Forests: A Development Strategy. World Bank, Washington, D.C.


1 Millennium Development Goals: Progress Report, produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Department of Public Information – DPI/2363-A (Rev. 27 October 2004)