Social inclusion in SFM

Indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge

Statutory laws often fail to recognize properly the customary rights of indigenous peoples, estimated to number about 370 million worldwide. Overlapping claims to forests by indigenous communities, settlers, the state, agro-industrial, timber and mining companies, and developers of infrastructure and urban areas continue to cause conflicts. Many countries lack effective mechanisms for instituting tenure reform, resolving conflicts, and ensuring the adequate participation of indigenous and other local peoples in forest management. Experience shows, however, that SFM can be implemented effectively and can contribute to the well-being of indigenous peoples when it: makes appropriate use of indigenous knowledge; is participatory and inclusive in decision-making and conflict management; facilitates access to finance and markets; strengthens capacities; and upholds the right to free, prior and informed consent and other principles of human rights. Many approaches to SFM rely heavily on local knowledge and the traditional experience of indigenous peoples.

A woman in Jamshedpur, India, selling Sal (Shorea robusta) leaves obtained from forests. ©FAO/Kumar SanjeevTraditional forest-based food production systems are important parts of the cultural heritages of many countries. Traditional knowledge constitutes social capital that is often undervalued, and its deployment in SFM contributes to community empowerment. On the other hand, many forest communities are under pressure and their social structures have been weakened, jeopardizing the retention of traditional knowledge. SFM can play an important role in integrating traditional knowledge with new technology and approaches in the face of socio-economic and cultural change in local communities.

FAO is working to address unique challenges that indigenous peoples living in and around forests face as described in the publication “FAO’s work with indigenous peoples in forestry”.



Within the forestry context, explicit socio-economic, political and cultural barriers have excluded and marginalized women’s voices in decision-making processes. Although the policy environment for addressing gender inequality has improved over the past decade, women continue to be disadvantaged by insecure property rights and limited access to forest, trees and land resources. They also suffer from discrimination and bias in the provision of services, including credit and technology, and are often excluded from decision-making at household, community and national levels.

Women in a rural village in Nepal. ©FAO/Kenichi Shono Involving women in forest-related decision-making at the community level has had positive effects on forest management, including by controlling illegal activities and reducing conflicts. The essence of conducting gender mainstreaming is to ensure that the different knowledge, skills and activities of both men and women of indigenous peoples, local communities and other marginalized groups whose livelihoods depend on forest resources are taken into account in forest decision-making processes.

In order to empower women in the forestry sector it is necessary to: 1) advocate for good governance systems which provide secure tenure for women; 2) collect gender‑disaggregated data to monitor gender roles in the sector; 3) implement gender in capacity building activities; 4) carry out knowledge building activities aimed at understanding gender-specific roles, needs and dynamics; 5) analyse the potential entry points for gender components in projects and programmes; and 6) circulate important data and facts related to gender in the forests and forestry sector.

The promotion of gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment, respecting their rights, and access to forest and land tenure, agriculture and forestry support services, capacity building, and fostering women’s equal participation in decision-making is essential to achieving food security and nutrition and should be mainstreamed across all policy recommendations.

Children and youth

Children and youth are an important stakeholder group in SFM because they are the future decision-makers, forest owners and managers. Helping children connect with nature creates future generations conscious of the benefits of trees and forests and the need to manage them sustainably. For some children, forests are a direct source of food, wood and shelter, and part of their everyday lives. Other children can discover forests in classrooms and forest schools, by spending guided time in forests and urban parks, or by learning about trees growing in cities and gardens. By investing in forestry education at all levels, countries can help ensure there are scientists, policy makers, foresters and local communities working to halt deforestation and restore degraded landscapes. To support and promote forest education, FAO published the Youth Guide to Forests in 2014, followed by the release of Discovering Forests learning and teaching guides in 2019.

FAO has recently launched two new forestry education initiatives aimed at raising awareness among children and young people on the sustainable use and conservation of forests. The two projects will address major challenges in forestry education and will help increase understanding of forests among the general public. 

One of the projects aims to increase forest literacy among children aged 9–12 in Tanzania and the Philippines. The three-year project will develop forest education modules based on an interactive, experiential, forest-based learning approach, and will then make these materials available for further adaptation and use around the world via a dedicated website.

The second project, jointly implemented by the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the International Union of Forest Research Organization (IUFRO), has the aim of conducting, together with other partners within the Collaborative Partnership on Forests and beyond, an inventory of forest education to review the state of forest education across six regions. Specifically, the project aims to identify forestry education challenges and gaps globally, and develop recommendations to address these.

Kilankwa, Nigeria - School children learning about forests under a tree. ©FAO/Pius Ekpei

Related SFM Toolbox modules:

Gender in forestry 

last updated:  Tuesday, November 3, 2020