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Wooden it be good if we had more forests!

Native forestland in South-West Cote d'Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

Native forestland in South-West Cote d’Ivoire. Photo by Emilie Smith/ICRAF

Typos aside, this is the theme of the 22nd Committee on Forestry (COFO) 2014 currently being held at FAO, 23-27June 2014. Officially entitled “Forests and People: Wood and Beyond, COFO 22 is aimed at reviewing the state of the world’s forests, focusing on their socioeconomic benefits and related questions, including income and employment; ownership and management rights; wood energy; and forest products in housing. In this context, the meeting will examine forest policy measures that promote sustainable production and consumption; access to resources, markets and financing; equitable benefit sharing; and valuation of forest products and services.

COFO 22 is a timely dress rehearsal for several forthcoming high level political processes affecting forests. These include: (a) multilateral agreement on forests, termed the “International Arrangement on Forests (IAF)” at UNFF11 in May 2015; (b) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) talks in September 2015; and (c) post-2015 climate regime UNFCCC COP21 meeting in Paris, December 2015.

Interestingly, forests are currently seen differently in these various fora. The IAF in many ways is still playing catch-up to the high level and overarching—albeit non-legally binding—political commitments made on the management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests at the Earth Summit (UNCED) in Rio, 1992.The current framing of forests under the SDGs in Goal 15 is more restrictive, and puts forests mainly in a conservation context. And, until recently, UNFCCC processes have principally looked at forests as a climate mitigation tool.

So the questions arises “Can COFO draw all these forest and intersectoral elements together in a compelling and coherent way?”.

The release today of the State of the World’s Forests 2014 report certainly points us in the right direction with a presentation of the socioeconomic benefits of forests in their widest context. Perhaps the most apposite statement in this report is the following:

“To measure the socio-economic benefits from forests, data collection must focus on people, not only trees.”

Ethiopian girl. Photo by Nigel Pavitt/ICRAF

Forest data collection should focus on people as well as trees. Ethiopian girl. Photo by Nigel Pavitt/ICRAF

With better assessment of the contributions of forests and trees to food, nutrition, incomes, labour, GDP and energy, we can hopefully not only see high recognition for forests but also higher regard as to their value. Interestingly, the election of (former President and Minister of Finance, Guyana) Hon. Bharat Jagdeo as COFO Chair, against a former trend of technical chairs, points to opportunities to lay out forestry in a more popular way.

Since trees were created 350 million years ago we have used them inside and outside forests for both goods (firewood, fodder, fruit, timber, medicine, etc.) and services (soil erosion, hydrological function, biodiversity repository, carbon sequestration, etc). At that time, in terms of climate, CO2 concentrations were 10 times higher, and temperatures 10 degrees hotter than they are today. Indeed it was trees that made our world habitable for humans and other mammals, and their destruction will make our world uninhabitable for humans.

But whilst we enthusiastically campaign for reduced deforestation and greater afforestation, foresters and agroforesters worldwide need to be able to answer the question: “How much forest and tree cover does a farm, a village, a watershed, a country individually, or the world collectively, need?”

Twenty thousand years ago we had 10% global forest cover; 8000 years ago we had 60% forest cover; and today we have 30% forest cover. So what is our baseline? Has forest cover tripled or halved?

For many climate reasons the world needs those forest- and tree-rich countries to keep the carbon stocks in forests to help avoid forest-conversion emissions. However, the decisions also need to be framed for developing countries as a development choice, and not just in simple benefit terms but also incorporating the full economic, social and environmental benefits and costs.

Perhaps all forests were created equal, but as we know some forests are now treated as being more equal than others. This also applies to nations, communities and regions.

The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) is pleased to support COFO 2014 and its follow up actions as we run up to key 2015 events. We look forward to continuing to champion, with partners, the role of trees in agricultural areas and forest boundaries in transforming livelihoods and landscapes. Here particularly, the topics of gender, youth, land tenure and agroforestry value chains require far greater attention and investment.

The recent Land Use Technical Expert Meeting under ADP in UNFCCC gives great scope and hope to implement an inclusive and progressive approach with mitigation and adaptation co-benefits.

As Luke Skywalker from Star Wars may have meant to say ….. “May the forest be with you.”

See Summary by the facilitator Tony Simons (ICRAF) of UNFCC ADP Technical Expert Meetings: Land use


See further Blogs by Dr Tony Simons: Simons Says





Tony Simons

Tony Simons is the Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). He has worked 27 years on issues at the tropical agriculture/forestry interface, within the private sector (Shell Forestry); academia (University of Oxford); official development assistance (ODA/DFID); and research (CGIAR). He holds degrees from Massey University and Cambridge University, and an Honorary Professorship in Tropical Forestry at the University of Copenhagen, and has published over 100 research papers. Tony is passionate about the transformative change that the private sector can bring to development.

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