They may be under threat, but forests and trees outside forests have enormous potential to help deal with the many social, economic and environmental problems facing the world today. We asked Tiina Vahanen, Associate Secretary-General of the World Forestry Congress 2015, to describe the global importance of forests, and what she sees as forestry’s greatest challenges.

Forests occupy one-third of the Earth’s land area, and trees outside forests occur on about another half of the global land area. The role of forests and trees in human well-being and food security, therefore, is significant. Forests and trees can help meet the global challenges of the future, such as mitigating and adapting to climate change, ensuring the adequate supply of fresh water, eradicating hunger and increasing food security.

But forests and trees face many challenges themselves. Arguably the biggest is to convince policy-makers, the private sector and people in general that the world needs them. Sustainable forest management is not a marginal activity – it is essential for the health of the planet and of people. Therefore, the knowledge base on forests and forestry also needs continuous improvement.

Another challenge is to ensure equity in the distribution of benefits derived from forests, which in many places means paying much more attention to tenure. Applying the Voluntary Guidelines for the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, which have been endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security, would be a good step in that direction. Another important step would be to address the role of indigenous peoples, women and youth in forest-related ownership and decision-making.

A third challenge, among many others, is to integrate the planning and management of the forest sector with other sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, energy and mining. A multisectoral approach will help achieve efficient outcomes in land management and increase food security.

Forests and trees are renewable; they can help provide our growing global population with environmentally friendly fuel, fibre, food and plastics, as well as essential ecosystem services. The planet needs forests. Forests need to be conserved and, in many places, expanded, and used sustainably. In that challenge, FAO Forestry can – and is – playing a catalytic role, strengthening its cross-sectoral partnerships and championing the role of forests and trees in a sustainable future that is free from hunger. The 2015 World Forestry Congress will be an excellent opportunity for all the world’s foresters, stakeholders and decision-makers to share the latest forest knowledge and exchange their views.

last updated:  Thursday, March 20, 2014