FAO Director-General calls for transformational change in the way we manage our forests and food systems that depend on them

Committee on Forestry focuses on how the forest sector can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and COVID-19 recovery

5 October 2020, Rome - Transformational change is needed in the way we manage our forests and their biodiversity, produce and consume our foods and interact with nature, if we want to build back better after the COVID-19 pandemic and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This was the key message of a speech delivered today by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu at the 25th session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO).

This year's session of COFO is being convened virtually from 5 to 9 October 2020 under the theme "Forests and the SDG Decade of Action: solutions for climate change, biodiversity and people".

In his opening remarks, the Director-General noted that the pandemic has shown that forests can serve as a safety net for human beings - particularly the poor and vulnerable - in times of crisis, offering a huge potential in "building back better".

Given that deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates largely due to agricultural expansion, we need to find ways to increase agricultural production and improve food security without reducing forest areas, Qu said calling for a fundamental change of mindset and remodeling our business approaches.  

"Halting deforestation and scaling up reforestation, must be a central building block to the sustainable transformation of food systems", the FAO chief stressed.

In his remarks, Qu urged to scale-up action to unlock the full potential of forests and food diversity and increase investment in sustainable forest sector as these actions are critical to achieving such global goals as eradication of hunger and poverty, climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as biodiversity conservation.

He also made the link to the Green Cities Initiative that FAO launched last month, which aims to transform agri-food systems, end hunger and improve nutrition in cities. He noted that cities are very essential in building back better, as "cities have the capacity, technologies, investment, information and purchasing power", adding that they can be the "promoter and engine of transformation".

This year's session of COFO is chaired by Shin Wonsup, Professor from Chungbuk National University, Cheongiu, Republic of Korea, and former Minister of Korea Forest Service. The opening session saw the participation of Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, and Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment Oceans and Fisheries, among others.

"COVID-19 has taught us that we need to reinforce for urgent action," Inger Andersen said, noting that a green recovery from the pandemic must promote healthy and restored forests following the transitions laid out in the Convention for Biological Diversity with conserving intact ecosystems, restoring ecosystems and reversing degradation being the priorities. "But to make these transitions happen we need to transform our food systems, which is the largest deforestation cause and which is the largest biodiversity loss cause," she added.

For his part, the EU Commissioner said: "Forests and trees contribute to all four pillars of food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability. If we fail to achieve the SDG 15, in particular managing forests sustainably, and halting and reversing biodiversity loss, we will also fail to deliver on achieving a world free from hunger and more generally on the 2030 Agenda".

FAO's work on forestry

FAO, together with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has been supporting over 60 countries in reducing deforestation and forest degradation, through the UN-REDD programme. The Organization's work on forest law enforcement, governance and trade help countries combat illegal logging and promote trade in timber, which is sustainably produced by small-scale enterprises.

FAO's Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme is spearheading efforts to ensure optimal health for people, animals and the environment as part of a One Health approach, while strengthening wildlife management and enhancing food security of local communities.

Improving forest-based livelihoods, prosperity and human well-being is the aim of the Forest and Farm Facility. More than 25 million people in 30 countries have directly or indirectly benefitted from this initiative, including during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

FAO has also helped to restore the productivity of degraded lands and the livelihoods of local communities in the Sahel. Its support to the Great Green Wall Initiative has resulted in some 50 000 hectares of land being restored.

Together with UNEP and the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, FAO has prepared an ambitious action plan to jointly restore 100 million hectares of degraded lands, sequester 250 million tons of CO2 and create 10 million green jobs.

About COFO 25

The Committee on Forestry (COFO) is the highest FAO Forestry statutory body. The biennial sessions of COFO bring together heads of forest services and other senior government officials to identify emerging policy and technical issues, to seek solutions and to advise FAO and others on appropriate action.

The 25th session of COFO and the 7th World Forest Week (2-12 October) will explore the contributions that the forest sector can make to the SDG Decade of Action as well as to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, including on solutions for climate change, biodiversity and people.

In particular, the Committee will examine a range of key global issues, including the impacts of COVID-19 on the forest sector and ways to respond; the role of forests in transforming food systems and mitigating impacts of climate change; contributions of the forest sector to the UN Decades on Family Farming and Ecosystem Restoration; among other topics.

The delegates will also discuss the outcomes of the two previously published flagship reports on forestry: The State of the World's Forests 2020 and the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020. A new publication "Moving Forward", which showcases the achievements of the FAO Forestry Programme in 2018-2019, will be launched during COFO.

Photo: ©FAO/Hoang Dinh Nam
Rapid assessment of forest protective function for soil and water in Vietnam.