Sustainable forest management can help avert conflicts, says UN report

17 March 2005

Sustainable use of the world’s forests not only creates employment and generates income but also can help avert the emergence of conflicts and promote rehabilitation where conflicts have erupted, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

On the other hand, marginalization of forestry in social and economic development may actually fuel armed conflicts, FAO said in the 2005 edition of The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO 2005), a report presented to the Ministerial Meeting on Forests in Rome.

“There is so much about forested regions today that makes them perfectly primed to play host to war,” FAO Assistant Director-General of Forestry Hosny El-Lakany said.

“It is in the forest where one often finds poor, isolated populations who are either ignored or mistreated and may need little encouragement to take up arms, and where there is usually valuable timber, minerals, oil and land that can easily be the source of tension. There is also the simple fact that forests can provide refuge, funds and food for fighters,” he added.

“When wars do break out, forest issues can offer a path to peace,” said David Kaimowitz, Director-General of the Jakarta, Indonesia-based Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and author of the chapter in the report entitled “Forests and War, Forests and Peace.”

“Attention to forestry problems need not wait until hostilities have ceased. Even in the bitter Rwandan civil war both sides agreed to take steps to avoid killing endangered gorillas. When Colombia’s Government negotiated with anti-government rebels several years ago, forestry and related environmental issues figured prominently in the talks.”

The gross value added by the forest sector amounted to $354 billion globally in 2000, or about 1.2 per cent of the gross domestic product, a decline from 1.6 per cent in 1990.

“Economic viability in a broad sense is necessary to enable wider adoption of sustainable forest management,” Mr. El-Lakany, said. “And where forests are managed primarily to provide environmental services, society should be willing to bear the costs. This would help towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of alleviating poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability, two sides of the same coin.”

Producing primary forest products alone is unlikely to enhance economic benefits, the study noted. Much will depend on the ability to move up the value chain, taking advantage of the emerging market opportunities in wood processing, such as the production of furniture. The share of gross value added by forests in some countries remains very low, notwithstanding the large extent of the forests involved, due to limited success in developing an efficient wood processing sector.

 

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