FAO Programme ::: Forests

Given their responsibility for meeting household food and fuel needs, the depletion of forest resources increases burdens on women

Forests make a significant contribution to livelihoods in the developing world. An estimated 1.2 billion people rely on agro-forestry farming systems. Although the net loss of forests is slowing down, deforestation and forest degradation continue, especially in tropical regions.

Because of the growing demand for ecosystem services from forests, a strategic approach is needed to optimize the capacity of forests to mitigate climate change, conserve biodiversity, safeguard wildlife and protect land and watersheds.

FAO’s strategy for sustainable management of forests and trees calls for action to increase the involvement of forest stakeholders in policy making and legislation, to enhance the contribution of forests to livelihoods, and to make forestry a more economically viable land-use option.

Gender dimensions of forest management

Rural women and men often have disparate knowledge of forest resources and different roles in tree and forest management. Women practise traditional agro-forestry production systems, such as home gardening, and harvest and sell wood and tree products as part of small-scale enterprises. They are mainly responsible for collection of fuel wood for the household, and of wild plants used as food and medicines.

Men are involved more in high-value activities such as cutting and hauling timber. But gender roles vary – in parts of Nepal, men weave bamboo baskets, while in Lao PDR, women are more active in the craft. Women are the sole collectors of fuel wood in Bhutan, but men help out in Sri Lanka.

Research suggests that trees and forests are more important to rural women’s livelihoods than to those of men. In Madagascar poor women in one community earned 37% of their income from forest products, compared to 22% earned by men. In Andhra Pradesh, 77% of women’s income in some areas was derived from forests.

In many countries, forest land is owned by the state, while local men have rights to trees and women to tree products such as fruit. On Pacific islands, women harvest breadfruit for food, but breadfruit trees are controlled by men, who use its timber to make furniture. For both men and women, access to forest resources is becoming complex, as rights based in negotiable customary law give way, increasingly, to government action to protect threatened forest habitats by restricting human encroachment.

Restrictions on access affect men and women in different ways. Forests can be crucial to farming women’s survival strategies. In sub-Saharan Africa, responsibility for caring for household members afflicted by HIV/AIDS falls mainly on women, leaving less time for agricultural production. As a result, they are becoming more reliant on forest foods and income from fuel wood. During conflicts and natural disasters, displaced rural people also become more reliant on forest products and services.

Given their responsibility for meeting household food and fuel needs, depletion of forest resources increases burdens on women especially. A study in Malawi found deforestation was forcing elderly women to walk more than 10 km a day to collect fuel wood. Women spend on average 800 hours a year in Zambia and 300 hours a year in Tanzania on the same task. In East Africa, fuel wood scarcity has led to a reduction in the number of meals cooked in poor households.

FAO's targets 2008-2013

To mainstream gender equity in its programmes for sustainable management of forests and trees, FAO has set itself the following targets to 2013:

Sector studies
Include gender issues in socio-economic analysis and forest sector outlook studies, and encourage countries to provide sex-disaggregated data.

Income generation
Promote methodologies for men and women to generate income from forests and trees in order to reduce poverty and to manage natural resources on a sustainable basis.

Stakeholder participation
Develop and implement approaches that increase the participation of male and female stakeholders in forest-related processes and activities.

Forest tenure systems
Promote equitable forest tenure systems through policies and laws that improve access to, and use and management of, forest resources for the benefit of men and women.

Forest institutions
Collect gender-disaggregated data on employment in public-funded forest research centres and graduation from forestry educational institutions.

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