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Ask not what we can do for trees, but what they can do for us, says UN forestry report

The forestry sector should focus on people rather than trees, according to a United Nations report published this week.

The report, released to coincide with UN World Forest Week, points out that trees provide a direct source of food, fuel, shelter and income for billions of people around the world.

The State of the World’s Forests estimates that 840 million people, or 12 per cent of the global population, collect wood fuel and charcoal from forests for their own use.

In the rural areas of some developing countries, wood-based fuels are often the only energy source available. In fact, wood accounts for 27 per cent of the primary energy supply in Africa, 13 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5 per cent in Asia and Oceania.

But wood is also increasingly used in the developed world in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Some 90 million people in North America and Europe now use wood energy as their main source of heating at home.

At least 1.3 billion people – or 18 per cent of the world’s population – also live in homes constructed primarily from forest products. And about 2.4 billion people cook with wood fuel, which equates to about 40 per cent of the population of less developed countries.

In addition, 764 million of these people are likely to use wood to boil – and therefore sterilise – their drinking water.

Despite this, data collected by forestry administrations usually focuses on the trees themselves, rather than the benefits that the trees can offer to humanity.

“Current data collection, which focuses on forests and trees, needs to be complemented by data collection on the benefits that people receive,” the report states. “Forest policies must explicitly address forests’ role in providing food, energy and shelter.”

Commenting on the report, which was published at a UN forestry meeting in Rome, Eva Mueller, director of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s forestry division, said: “Food from the forests – like fruit, nuts, mushrooms, leaves, roots, insects and wild animals – often contributes a nutritious supplement to rural people, and provides a safety net in times of hardship.”

But she pointed out that forests also provided habitat for approximately 80 per cent of the world’s flora and fauna. In addition, the forest canopy helped to protect watersheds and water courses from contamination, she said, adding: “Forests are important providers of ecosystem services.”

Adi Bloom
Questions for debate and discussion
  1. Why does the United Nations want us to focus on ‘people rather than trees’?
  2. Many people rely on the wood from trees as their main energy source. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this source of energy?
  3. Can you think of any other reasons why protecting forests and trees is important?
  4. What is the purpose of this kind of report from the UN? What effect do you think they have on the world?

Relevant resources 

Conservation education
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Environment assembly
With this assembly from TrueTube, you’ll be able to raise awareness of conservation issues around the world.

Deforestation: Development or destruction?
Stage a class debate about the advantages and disadvantages of deforestation.

Renewable energy
Explore the different types of renewable energy with this lesson, and get your class discussing the merits of each.

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