Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

It is possible that the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to an increase in deforestation and associated biodiversity loss. As household incomes decrease and food is less available, people in some rural areas will turn to forests and forest products for subsistence, including plants and wildlife for food, which can result in an overharvesting of natural resources. In addition, people and businesses seeking income in times of duress will likely put even more pressure on forest resources through charcoal production, conversion of forests to agriculture and other informal and at times illegal economic activities. There is also a risk that stimulus programmes prioritize quick financial returns and employment over longer term climate and sustainability objectives, which may exacerbate deforestation or forest degradation. Deforestation and associated biodiversity loss are meanwhile recognised as contributing factors to the risk of spreading diseases.

Production and trade disruptions affect entire value-chains and will put livelihoods and businesses at risk. However, day labourers or part-time workers and small, informal business operators risk being the worst hit as they often have no social safety net to fall back on. Similarly, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and forest and farm producer organizations (FFPOs) have very low capacity to delay their spendings without earnings. MSMEs account for over 50 percent of total forest-related employment, and employ approximately 40 million people worldwide in the formal and informal sectors.

The management of the COVID-19 pandemic, including on forest-related aspects, is overseen at national level. Forest communities, forest workers and users, and consumers of wood and non-wood forest products all have to carefully apply rules and recommendations established by their national governements to fight sanitary risks linked to COVID-19.  

Restrictions on movement impact the transport of forest products from production sites to market centers, most of which are in urban areas. This in turn affects the income of producers and sellers, and consumers in urban areas who rely on woodfuel for basic needs such as cooking.  Restrictions also affect the labour market, for instance through reduced availability of seasonal workers (including from abroad) for activities such as planting and harvesting.  

Steady progress has been made to date to empower women by supporting their participation in legal and sustainable fuelwood and charcoal production. However, COVID-19 has meant reduced access to markets and trading opportunities, impacting women who rely on selling forest products in cities that are currently off-limits. Restrictions on transportation and trade of fuelwood and charcoal may also affect reliable access to energy for cooking in urban areas. 

Upholding commitments to legality by countries and businesses lays the foundations for recovery by ensuring the sustainable use of forest resources. Enforcing the legislation of timber-producing countries is paramount to avoid overuse of forest resources and to prevent illegal activities. Good practices such as timber traceability systems and independent on-the-ground monitoring activities of forest resources must remain in place to continue to work towards sustainable forest management practices and hence sustainable production and consumption.

Globally, there is an increased –  and in some instances, record –  demand for forest-derived hygiene, paper and packaging products. Forests can provide subsistence goods for rural communities and support local markets. Research conducted in 24 countries has shown that on average forest products (such us wood fuel, wild fruits, bushmeat for food, plant materials for medicine, etc) constituted 21 percent of household income in these communities (Angelsen et al 2014). The development of local and regional markets for sustainably-produced forest products - including edible products – not only help in maintaining supply chains, but can offer income generation and savings opportunities. This helps  sustain rural livelihoods with added resilience. Designing programmes that combine employment opportunities with efforts to enhance productivity and environmental protection such as restoration of productive ecosystems, will be critical to a sustainable recovery.

FAO’s first objective is to help ensure the health and security of all involved in forest-related activities, particularly those most dependent on forests, forest products and forest-related incomes. FAO is working with a wide range of partners to address the impacts of COVID-19 on livelihoods and forests in different contexts, and to enhance forestry contributions to health and crisis recovery, building back stronger and more resilient communities and societies.

See FAO’s policy brief for further information on the impacts of COVID-19 on the forest sector.