Forests and poverty reduction

Close to 1.6 billion people – more than 25% of the world’s population – rely on forest resources for their livelihoods and most of them (1.2 billion) use trees on farms to generate food and cash. Moreover, many countries in the developing world draw on fuelwood to meet as much as 90% of energy requirements. Despite the importance of these resources for the range of economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits they provide, data on such dimensions are either sketchy or not available. Therefore, the extent to which they contribute to national development, reduce poverty, and enhance food security for vulnerable populations is not well recognized or appreciated. Increasingly however, case studies and other convincing evidence are documenting the role forests and trees outside forests play in national economic growth, rural development and livelihoods. Scientific research also is improving our understanding of how forestry contributes to achieving all UN Millennium Development Goals, not only those pertaining to poverty, hunger and the environment.

For millions of people living in poverty, forest and tree resources not only provide food, fuel for cooking and heating, medicine, shelter and clothing, but they also function as safety nets in crises or emergencies – for example, when crops fail owing to prolonged drought or when heads of households can no longer engage in productive activities because of HIV and AIDS or other devastating diseases. Forest resources generate income through employment and through the sale of surplus goods and services.

Consistent with its mandate, FAO has been working with countries since its foundation in 1945 to ensure people have enough quality food to lead healthy and productive lives. It is also assisting to develop rural areas where 70 percent of the world’s poor and hungry people reside – where, in many regions, forests and trees outside forests perform a range of economic, ecological, cultural and social functions which are critical to the health of the planet and its inhabitants.

During an international forum which took place in 2001 to discuss the potential of forestry to reduce poverty, experts developed a four-point agenda for action which calls for:

  • strengthening the rights of poor people, local capabilities and governance;
  • reducing vulnerability of poor people;
  • removing constraints to access profitable and dynamic opportunities in forestry;
  • working in partnerships.

Building on these priorities, FAO published Better forestry, less poverty which suggests ways to prevent, mitigate, and reduce poverty through forestry-based interventions in rural areas. The document outlines key issues and provides examples of successful case studies. It highlights the importance of using participatory approaches and of tailoring activities to local circumstances. Emphasis is on making changes that will improve the lives of people living in or near forests, on helping users to better understand the various forms of rural poverty, and on showing how decisions made at the local level affect segments of poor communities in different ways – women, children and the elderly being the most vulnerable.

More recently, FAO is examining how forestry is considered in national poverty reduction strategies and is working with countries to strengthen linkages. Through its Community-based Enterprise Development Programme , FAO is also helping rural areas to set up small-scale businesses for processing tree and forest products. Such initiatives not only improve income but they also provide an incentive to better manage and protect the resource base.

In seeking to enhance forestry’s contributions to poverty reduction, FAO collaborates with and draws on the work of partners, particularly the National Forest Programme Facility, as well as the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the World Bank’s Program on Forests (PROFOR) and many others.

last updated:  Friday, May 15, 2015