According to a new study that combined data on tree cover and human population density to map the spatial relationship between people and forests on a global scale, 95 percent of all people outside urban areas – 4.17 billion people – lived within 5 km of a forest in 2019 and 75 percent – 3.27 billion people – lived within 1 km.36 There is likely a high correlation between forest proximity and extreme poverty, given that 80 percent of the extreme poor live in rural areas.37
The majority of people living near trees outside forests on agricultural lands are in Africa and Asia (Figure 3). For example, a large-scale study of five countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that one-third of rural smallholder households grow trees, which contribute an estimated 17 percent of total annual gross income to these households.38
Figure 3Density of people living near trees on agricultural land, 2019
The livelihoods and well-being of people living near forests and trees can depend to a large extent on their rights to use these resources for their own benefit. According to FRA 2020, 73 percent of forests globally were owned publicly in 2015, 22 percent were under private ownership and 4 percent were categorized as unknown.39 Public ownership was predominant in all regions, with differences among subregions: in Western and Central Africa, for example, 93 percent of forests were publicly owned and 2 percent were under private ownership; in Northern Africa, 73 percent were publicly owned and 27 percent were under private ownership; in Western and Central Asia, 99 percent were publicly owned and 1 percent were privately owned; and, in Central America, private ownership accounted for 51 percent of the forest area.40 The proportion of management rights to publicly owned forest held by public administrations decreased globally from 96 percent in 1990 to 83 percent in 2015; the proportion held by business entities and institutions grew from 2 percent to 13 percent over the same period and the proportion held by local, tribal and indigenous communities increased from 1 percent to 2 percent.41 In 2015, individuals accounted for 51 percent of the total area of privately owned forest in countries and territories reporting for FRA, local, tribal and indigenous communities for 29 percent and business entities and institutions for 20 percent.42 Given the low coverage of the reporting, however, these figures present only a partial picture.
According to a Rights and Resources Initiative study (using a different methodology to FRA 2020) covering 58 countries (together representing nearly 92 percent of forests globally), Indigenous Peoples and local communities were legally recognized as owning at least 447 million ha (12 percent of the total forest area) in 2017; they also held legally designated rights (not counted as ownership) to more than 80 million ha (2 percent of the global forest area).43 There was a global slowdown in tenure recognition for Indigenous Peoples, local communities and rural women between 2002 and 2017, according to the study.
Tenure and property rights reforms are expected to improve the well-being of those whose rights are formally recognized by enabling more secure access to resources, incentivizing long-term investment in forest resources, and, ultimately, alleviating poverty and inequality.44,45,46