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6 October 2015

7 things we learned at the World Forestry Congress

Caroline Ochieng represented SEI and SIANI at the World Forestry Congress 2015 as panelist in a session on food security and nutrition. Here, she sums up the main lessons she took away from the world’s most important forestry event.

1. We need to face up to the tension between our consumption of forest products and our wish to maintain forests themselves – particularly in the rich world

There is no way around it: we have to use trees. As we phase out fossil fuels, as industries go green, and as the bio-economy develops, forest products will be at a premium. Overall this is a positive thing – but sound management and prioritization is vital. Sometimes, developed countries’ position on forests is inconsistent: forest products are widely consumed, yet deforestation is often roundly condemned. More effort needs to be made to recognize this dilemma and to reconcile it.

2. Food production need not be a threat

We don’t need to keep pushing forest frontiers to accommodate food production, which is currently the major threat to forestry in Africa. There are technologies available to maximize food production on limited land. And there is a need for technology and innovation for maximize and diversify the value of trees that are felled – one individual tree can have up to 5000 potential users. This is about intensifying use of trees themselves – eliminating waste in production and finding uses for biomass previously considered as waste, for example using sawmill dust to make bio-pellets for energy.

3. The Sustainable Development Goals are crucial for the future of forests

Many people feel that the SDGs offer a great way forward for forestry, particularly Goal 15: Life on Land. This is largely because the goals were developed via a highly collaborative process, with the result that developing countries feel they own the goals and have entered into the contract through their own choice, rather than feeling as if they’ve been handed down by decree. This will almost certainly lead to countries being more accountable to their own people and the SDG commitments they make, and so will have knock-on effects for forests.

4. The fight for gender rights can have spin off benefits for forests – and so women need to be better represented in forestry forums

Gender inequality is a big barrier to maintaining forests. In many places women don’t have land rights and can’t grow and exploit trees for themselves, so are forced to use the forest instead, especially to gather woodfuel for cooking. Given the importance of gender to sustainable forest management, women should be better represented in forums like the World Forestry Congress.

5. Shift perspectives on investment

It is not just about planting trees – it’s really important to invest in people living on the borders of forests and other marginalized groups that exploit them, for example through payments for ecosystem services.

6. Everyone – not just “forest people” – needs to be involved in the effort to save forests

Everyone benefits from their presence, and loses from deforestation. An effort must be made to educate people outside of forestry about the value of forests to wider society, not only scientists, policy-makers, and the public, but also local people who exploit the resources.

7. Ditch the alarmism

While acknowledging that unique forest is being lost, there is a need for a more balanced and evidence-based approach, particularly in the West, where information and media stories are often negative and pessimistic. There is much positive news, such as declining rates of deforestation, and, while of course not all forests are equal, in reality the vast bulk of forested land is not being cut down.

Caroline Ochieng was at WFC representing the work of SIANI’s expert group on food security and energy access. SIANI is a member-based network that supports and promotes Swedish expertise on sustainable food security and nutrition. SEI hosts SIANI at its headquarters in Stockholm.

Check out Caroline’s blog about food security & energy access

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Stockholm University