We can’t live without forests

Forest environments play a key role in feeding a growing population

10 Dec 2014

Forests are one of the Earth’s greatest natural resources. There is a reason why we often figuratively speak of ‘the tree of life’; forests are key to supporting life on Earth.

Eight thousand years ago, half of the Earth’s land surface was covered by forests or wooded areas. Today, these areas represent less than one third. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s land-based biodiversity and billions of dollars worth of medicinal plants are harvested from tropical forests every year.  In addition, 1.6 billion people depend on them to some extent for their livelihoods.

Some of the ways forests make it possible to grow the food we need

Forests help regulate local weather systems, controlling how much rain and snow fall in a given area. This is especially important in agricultural areas where the growing season is short. Many plants need the help of wild pollinators to produce fruit and seeds. Birds, bees, insects, and animals act as pollinating agents in the agricultural process, and many make their homes in forest environments next to farmlands. Ironically, when we destroy a forest habitat for agricultural reasons, we eliminate one of the components necessary to yield successful crops. 

Forests provide a habitat for natural pest controllers. An estimated 99% of pests that have the ability to destroy crops are kept in check by birds, spiders, parasitic wasps, lady bugs, and fungi. These organisms save farmers billions of dollars every year, and reduce the need for chemical pesticides.

Wild animals and edible insects from forests are the main source of protein for many people. Forest foods are a regular part of rural diets and serve as safety nets in periods of food scarcity.

Forests not only help us grow the food we need but also provide us with the energy we need to cook. An estimated 2.4 billion people use fuelwood for cooking their food and approximately 765 million people worldwide use wood fuel to boil and sterilize water.

What you can do to keep the world’s forests healthy

Forest cover varies across different areas in the world. Some countries are managing to restore their forests while others continue to lose them.  Although deforestation is shown to be slowing down, about 13 million hectares of forest have been destroyed every year since 2000 (the equivalent of five football pitches disappears every minute). Forests have to be managed sustainably so that we can continue to benefit from this precious natural resource.

Here are a few things you can do to help.

If you are in a region where forests are sustainably managed:

  • Learn. Learn more about forests and their value, and appreciate the natural functions of forests.
  • Engage. Join in activities in forests, promote and share the many benefits forests provide to human well-being in your community.
  • Participate. Organize a community tree planting day  or volunteer with a local forest conservation group.

If you are experiencing deforestation around you:

  • Inform. Help your community understand the full benefits of forest restoration and raise awareness of activities which are harmful to forests.
  • Protect. Campaign to protect the natural functions of forest land in your local area. You can help safeguard a threatened ecosystem or species by campaigning to have it protected.
  • Restore. Organize a community tree planting day to replenish a damaged forest. Maintain and follow-up the restoration activity closely.

Check out our latest fact-filled guide to forests.

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