Forests and Family Farming

Forests, trees on farms and forest communities are linked to family farming in numerous ways

The Committee on Forestry  (COFO 22) is taking place in FAO headquarters this week (23-27 June).  In light of the 2014 International Year of Family Farming (IYFF), the topic of forests and family farming is one of the key agenda items this year.  The International Year of Family Farming provides an opportunity to put all small-scale and family-based agricultural activities in the spotlight. These include forest communities, small forest owners as well as family farmers, and the significant role they play in sustainable development.

The overlap between family farming and forests is significant. A large proportion of the world’s forest-dependent people including indigenous peoples, local forest communities, smallholders, forest owners, small-scale forest and farm producers, and entrepreneurs are family farmers. 


Forests and the farming systems they support are crucial for food security and nutrition supplying fuel for cooking and contributing nutritious supplements to rural diets. Forest and farm resources do not only produce food but also generate fuel and energy; fodder and building materials; water retention and recharge; pollination; pest control and green manure.

Forest communities, family forest owners and family farmers have intimate knowledge of their land and resources.  A combination of traditional and new agroforestry, livestock rearing and fishery practices demonstrate the potential for increasing productivity substantially on smaller pieces of land. Combining products from forest and field allows family farmers to avoid the cost of purchasing fuel wood, essential building materials, farming implements etc. promoting the sustainable use of natural resources. At the same time, the combination of forest and farms allows family farmers to collect, process and market a wider variety of products ranging from timber to a wide array of non-wood forest products.

In addition, many of these complex systems combining forests and family farms play a role in the face of climate change. They are 'climate smart', with in-built capacity to decrease vulnerability and improve resilience to climate change.

Family forests also have a major role in global economies - they have been significant in the development of a number of Northern countries and, in China, there are now over 100 million family forest owners as a result of large-scale forest tenure reform.


Nevertheless, there are also a number of challenges facing forest communities, small forest owners and family farmers around the world. These include:

Threats of land conversion, lack of clear tenure rights and confusing policy environments - Forest communities, small forest owners and family farmers often face threats in the face of large-scale industrial projects. This is aggravated by lack of clear tenure to territories, forests, communal lands and farms as well as confusing and sometimes contradictory policies.

Access to markets, fair prices and lack of credit - Those not involved in the timber industry often face challenges accessing markets and gaining fair prices. In addition, farmers and forest communities lack financial support and access to business development services, which enable them to grow. They also suffer from the competition of large-scale forest industry.

Urban migration and gender issues- Women play a key role in family farming and many forest-related activities, however they often face additional barriers.  With increased urban migration, particularly of young men, farms are often faced with a shortage of labour and struggle to improve the prospects for the next generation.


One of the IYFF's objectives is to increase partnerships and dialogue in the broad and diverse sector of family and small-scale agricultural activities. This cooperation is already taking place within FAO through the Strategic Objectives, which promote inter-departmental collaboration. However, the links between forestry and family farming must be strengthened and supported at all levels from the family farmer to large international federations.  This can be achieved by:

  • Strengthening forest and farm producer organizations to increase sharing of knowledge and engage in policy advocacy, as well as sharing the costs of vital social protection measures like health insurance etc.
  • Improving access to finance, information and services to help beneficiaries attain economic, social and environmental sustainability.
  • Creating enabling environments in order to promote legal and policy reforms to tackle the challenges farmers and forest communities are facing.

Information on the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF)

Read the full Forests and Family Farming document (English only)