Forest landscapes in drylands – known as dry forests – play a crucial role in tackling global challenges such as poverty and climate change and must by properly managed, participants at the United Nations Forum on Forests underscored today.
Dry forests cover about 40 per cent of the Earth’s surface. They are important biodiversity sanctuaries; provide ecosystem goods such as fuel, wood for construction, medicines and herbs; and act as a buffer against drought and desertification.
“I think you cannot overestimate the critical social, environmental and economic services provided by these dry forests,” said Alexander Buck, Executive Director of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).
The group – a network for forest science cooperation that unites more than 15,000 scientists in almost 700 member organizations in over 110 countries – is one of many taking part in the Forum’s tenth session (UNFF10), which opened on Monday in Istanbul.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), forests and trees in drylands – if managed properly – can not only combat desertification, but also help alleviate poverty, provide options for adapting to climate change and limit erosion.
“By supporting the millions of people who live in the world’s dry areas, forests and trees in drylands can contribute to the FAO mandate of achieving food security,” stated the agency.
At the same time, it pointed out that dryland forests are subject to a host of challenges, including deforestation, degradation and desertification, driven by adverse land-use policies and subsidies, poor governance and a lack of investment in their sustainable management and restoration.
FAO has developed a set of global guidelines for restoring the resilience of forest landscapes in drylands which is currently under review. The guidelines – which seek to help achieve the global target to restore 150 million hectares of degraded lands worldwide by 2020 – will be launched at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in September this year.
“Millions of hectares of drylands forest landscapes need to be restored to help tackle global challenges, including critical issues of water scarcity, deforestation and degradation, and climate change,” said Ekrem Yazici, FAO Forestry Officer based in Ankara, Turkey.
“Forests keep drylands working” was the UNCCD slogan for 2011, which was the International Year of Forests. Forests are critical to the eradication of poverty in the drylands, according to the Convention’s Secretariat. They are also the first step towards healing the drylands and protecting them from desertification and drought. Forests and tree cover prevent land degradation and desertification by stabilizing soils, reducing water and wind erosion, and maintaining water and nutrient cycling in soils.
The Secretariat points out that more than two billion hectares of land worldwide are suitable for rehabilitation through forest and landscape restoration. Out of this, 75 per cent is best suited for mosaic restoration, where forests and trees can be combined with other land uses, including agroforestry.
During this year’s celebration of the first International Day of Forests, 21 March, UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja stated that forests hold the key to global food security.
“They are the backbone of the dryland ecosystems that make up 44 percent of all cultivated systems and support half of the global livestock,” he said. “In contrast to their value, dry forests receive little attention from conservationists, policy-makers, the business community and the general public.”
Outlining the challenges in managing dry forests in Africa, Godwin Kowero, Executive Secretary of the African Forest Forum, noted the scant availability of information as well as increasing pressure on forests for food and fuel and for economic development.
“It would appear as if there are a lot of problems in these forest areas,” he told the Forum’s side event on dry forests. However, “these forests resources are the key to unlocking the potential for economic development in the continent.”
The dry forests and woodlands of Africa cover 54 per cent of the continent and support some 64 per cent of its population through the provision of a wide range of environmental goods and services, according to the non-governmental Center for International Forestry Research, another participant at the Forum.
Mr. Kowero stressed the need to devote more attention and resources to addressing dry forests. “The African forest landscape is changing. Our challenge is how to manage these changes.”