New UN report examines why so many conflicts occur in forested areas

7 April 2005

Many of the world's violent conflicts take place in forested regions because insurgents can find hiding places and exploit valuable natural resources to fund their activities, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says in its annual forest report.

Governments, on the other hand, have tended to see forests as "peripheral places with few people and little political importance or economic value and have focused on them to extract timber or minerals," while withholding basic services or failing to integrate the areas into the national political process, FAO says in "State of the World's Forests 2005."

Because forest dwellers feel mistreated or neglected, they may use violence to gain control over natural resources, such as timber, petroleum, land, ivory, diamonds, gold or other minerals, it says. "Given the limited employment opportunities in many forested regions, taking up arms can seem like an attractive way to earn a living."

In insurgencies in Africa, Latin America and South and Southeast Asia, FAO says, rebels may engage in lucrative illegal activities, such as cultivating illicit crops and smuggling.

The political, religious or ethnic reasons for conflict may be linked to personal desires for wealth, status, revenge, security, or out of loyalty to an individual, and these factors must be removed in forested areas before strife breaks out, FAO says.

Peace may take an even greater toll on forests unless governance and opportunities to make a living are improved, it says, quoting a study which notes that "at the end of a civil war, which on average lasts seven years, a country can expect its per capita income to be 15 per cent lower and to have 30 per cent more people living in poverty."

Asia, on the other hand, has been developing new sources of raw materials for industry from its forests, FAO says.

"In Malaysia, for example, exports of rubber wood products are valued at $1.1 billion annually," while new technologies are expanding the range of items made from coconut palm, oil palm, bamboo and wheat and rice straw, it says.

FAO says estimating the exact contribution of non-wood forest products (NWFPs) to the values and flows of international trade is difficult because of the lack of agreement on terminologies, but "from 1992 to 2002, the value of global trade in NWFPs increased 1.5 times."

Before using NWFP commercialization as a poverty reduction strategy, however, it says, "a number of issues need to be carefully considered, including the equitable sharing of benefits."


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