FORESTS play a critical role as home to biological diversity. Life on earth depends on forests considering the provision of oxygen we breathe.
They are a source of livelihood for humanity, they are important habitats for animals, they contain species of trees that are important for environmental, scientific or societal value. They play an important role in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change.
Forests are a source of food, medicine and fuel for more than a billion people. They hold more than three-quarters of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, providing many products and services that contribute to socio-economic development in many countries of the world.
Today, as we celebrate International Day of Forests, the theme for 2020 ‘Forests and Biodiversity’, reminds us of the important role that forests play in maintaining life on earth. It is sad to see that despite all this significance, forests are disappearing at an unprecedented scale world over!
According to the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015 report, in 1990 the world had 4,128 million hectares of forest, but by 2015, this area decreased to 3,999 million hectares. There are many reasons advanced, including an increase in the population density, expansion of agriculture land, reliance on wood fuel for energy and other un-sustainable land use practices.
Deforestation, chiefly caused by the conversion of forestland to agriculture and livestock production areas, threatens not only the livelihoods of forest dependent communities and indigenous peoples, but also the variety of life on our planet.
Land-use changes result in a loss of valuable habitats, land degradation, soil erosion, a decrease in clean water and the release of carbon into the atmosphere. Losing forest biodiversity means losing important sources of medicine, food, raw materials and employment opportunities.
Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is a commitment made by countries to tackle the complex challenges we face, from ending poverty and hunger and responding to climate change to building resilient communities, achieving inclusive growth and sustainably managing the earth’s natural resources.
While the importance of forests and trees to a healthy, prosperous planet is universally recognised, the depth of those roots may be greater than imagined. Several indicators under SDG15 focus on forests, specifically monitoring forest land and the share of forests under sustainable manage“ ment.
Bearing in mind the important role that forests play in conserving biodiversity, FAO is working with governments of the member states across the globe to ensure that these resources are utilised in a sustainable manner.
For instance, through the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), FAO is supporting countries across the globe including Tanzania by strengthening capacities for collection and analysis of official national statistics on forest resources to enable them ensure sustainable use of their natural resources.
This way, FRA plays a central role in monitoring progress towards the SDG 15 –Life on Land. For some years here in Tanzania, FAO has continued to provide technical support for the development of the first ever-comprehensive National Forest Inventory-the National Forestry Resources Monitoring and Assessment (Naforma).
FAO has also been supporting the government of Tanzania by providing both technical and financial support for conducting assessments and studies on forests and biodiversity, community based forestry management, forest tenure in the framework of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT), forestry for sustainable food security and nutrition, cost–benefit analysis of forestry interventions for supplying wood fuel, among others.
With regard to forestry governance instruments - policy, legal and guidelines, FAO has supported the review of the National Forest Policy, development of the National Forestry Policy Implementation Strategy, and currently, review of the National Forestry Management Act.
Managing forests sustainably, and restoring degraded ones, is crucial for people, biodiversity and climate. Forests and Biodiversity are indeed too precious to lose!
• The author is the Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).