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Forests and trees – a source of shelter, food, energy and employment for millions

Time to shift perspective from trees to people

25 Jun 2014

The challenge is to maintain and develop the socioeconomic benefits from forests while safeguarding the resource. FAO’s State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) 2014 argues that if the focus of data collection and policy is shifted from trees to people, forests can be sustainably managed to meet society’s growing demands.

Read the most important findings:

The formal forestry sector employs some 13.2 million people across the world and at least another 41 million are employed in the informal sector.

Informal employment in forestry is often not captured in national statistics, but the estimates presented in SOFO 2014 show that it is significant in less developed regions. It is also estimated that some 840 million people, or 12 percent of the world’s population, collect woodfuel and charcoal for their own use.

Wood energy is often the only energy source in rural areas of less developed countries and is particularly important for poor people.

It accounts for 27 percent of total primary energy supply in Africa, 13 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 5 percent in Asia and Oceania. However, it is also increasingly used in developed countries with the aim of reducing dependence on fossil fuels. For example, about 90 million people in Europe and North America now use wood energy as their main source of domestic heating.


Forest products make a significant contribution to the shelter of at least 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the world's population. 

Forest products are used in the construction of people’s homes all over the world. The recorded number of people living in homes where forest products are the main materials used for walls, roofs or floors is about 1 billion in Asia and Oceania and 150 million in Africa. However, as this estimate is based on only partial information, the true number could be much higher. 

A major contribution of forests to food security and health is the provision of woodfuel to cook and sterilize water.

It is estimated that about 2.4 billion people cook with woodfuel, or about 40 percent of the population of less developed countries. In addition, 764 million of these people may also boil their water with wood. Collection of edible non-wood forest products also supports food security and provides essential nutrients for many people.


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