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Forests, Trees and the Eradication of Poverty : Potential and Limitations

A new and most comprehensive scientific assessment presented by the Global Forest Experts Panel (GFEP) on Forests and Poverty reveals critical links between forests, trees and poverty alleviation. The report makes a valuable contribution to achieving the first and foremost of the United Nations‘ Sustainable Development Goals aimed at ending poverty. This is even more important in light of the current pandemic under which efforts to fight poverty have suffered a severe setback. The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), on behalf of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), established the Panel in the framework of the GFEP initiative.

The Global Forest Expert Panel issued its findings on current environmental challenges, and projected extreme poverty due to COVID 19 pandemic, in a report titled, Forests, Trees and the Eradication of Poverty : Potential and Limitations’.


The report says the vital ecosystem if properly harnessed can transform livelihoods of rural communities amid economic hardships linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence shows that forests and tree-based systems can support rural livelihoods, have a buffer function in maintaining livelihoods and represent natural insurance.

It emphasised the need of focused attention by governments on sustainable management of forests amid their huge contribution to poverty eradication, food security, and climate resilience.

The report was compiled by 22 researchers from nine countries and focused on the link between forests and poverty alleviation successes in Africa, Asia and Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic era. It is an initiative of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) chaired by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Benefits of Agro-forestry

The report highlighted the direct and indirect benefits from forests include forest-related employment and income, use of timber and non-timber forest products, among a wide range of other ecosystem services.

Assessment was based on scientific evidences from countries such as India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Ghana, which showed how agroforestry, community forest management, ecotourism and forest producer organisations have been successful in reducing poverty.

Although, the monetary gains from the ecosystem services may not always reach the poorest households. The benefits and costs from forests and trees to human well-being were unevenly distributed.

  • For example, community forestry management (CFM) in Nepal recognised as one of the most successful programmes in the world has been critically assessed to show how the better-off households benefitted more than the poorer households.
  • Further, e.g. in Madagascar, benefits of agroforestry systems focusing on vanilla production were also not distributed equally. Approximately 80 per cent of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar, largely in the north-eastern Sava region. These agroforestry systems are the main source of income for many farmers.

While smallholders who got the contracts flourished, women-headed households were at the disadvantage due to their poor social strata and little chances of getting the contracts, noted the report.

Asia and Africa: Epicenters of Enlarging Inequality

In African continent with rich forests and wildlife biodiversity, timber and tourism contribute massively to national economic accounts. But the benefits may not trickle down to the local level, cautioned experts.

In fact, local communities may bear the cost of these activities through environmental degradation and restricted access to protected areas.

Protected areas did provide opportunities to reduce poverty by involving local people as stakeholders in countries such as Costa Rica and Thailand. But the better-off people were more likely to benefit, thus widening the inequality in local income.

  • When the governmental policies on poverty alleviation have a tendency to focus on agriculture, infrastructure and cash transfers, the report underlined how ecosystem services should be central to global agenda of poverty alleviation and climate mitigation as well.

Underlining major gaps on the linkages between forests and poverty, the report highlighted areas of research that required urgent attention if forests and tree-based systems were to realise their potential in the struggle to end poverty.

  1. It called for more research on the relationship between forests and inequality, which can help inform policymakers of the potential for forests and trees to provide goods and services, manage risk and provide a pathway out of poverty compared with other levers for poverty alleviation.
  2. It noted that nearly 50 per cent of the evidences on linkages between forests and poverty have been documented from just five countries, which are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India and Nepal. Evidence on agroforestry and poverty also exhibited geographical bias.
  3. Europe, North America and West and Central Africa had not yet been explored completely and the world had limited understanding on ‘forests and livelihood’ in these countries.


Forests and trees are critical to the well-being of many of the world’s poor people who have been able to harness the goods and services they provide to manage and mitigate risk, especially in the face of crises. To secure and improve this important function, we need to adequately protect, manage and restore forests and to make forests and trees more central in policy decision-making.

  • At least 1.6 billion people are dependent directly on forests for their livelihood most who living below the international poverty line derive direct and indirect benefits from forests. In such a scenario, global assessment offers a new direction and broad well-being opportunities.

A reference to UNCCD:    

The UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework aims at restoring the productivity of degraded lands, improving the livelihoods of people, and reducing the impacts of drought on vulnerable populations (UNCCD, 2017). National Action Programmes are the key instruments for realising these goals, and parties to the Convention are requested to include measures in them to conserve natural resources, such as the sustainable management of forests (Wildburger, 2009). The UNCCD emphasises ‘land degradation neutrality’as a pathway to sustainable development, within which forests (particularly forest restoration and rehabilitation) play a substantial role. (p.20)

The role of forests in sustainable land use approaches that balance poverty alleviation with other management goals is important for the implementation of existing international commitments. Global markets for forest and tree crop products are entering a new phase of commitments and sustainability standards, such as ‘zero net deforestation’ (promoted under the UNCCD). In light of the emerging sector of impact investments which often relate to such standards, there are increasing opportunities for CFEs managing forests sustainably to attract this new type of investment to produce more semi-finished and finished products and, based on the value added, to enable their members to move out of poverty. (p.103)

Further reading from UNCCD Library :   forests ; deforestation; and more on the importance of forests...

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