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Climate Action 2010-2011

Redd, Sustainable Forest

Redd, Sustainable Forest Management and Agriculture Biodiversity: the essence of forest goods and services Frances Seymour, Director-General of Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Robert Nasi, Principal Scientist and Terry Sunderland, Senior Scientist, for CIFOR As well as providing humanity with a wealth of goods and environmental services, the world’s forests also play a newly appreciated role in mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration and buffering communities and ecosystems from the full impacts of extreme weather events. Biodiversity is at the core of all these services. Any new model of forest conservation must have biodiversity at its heart and work to protect the whole gamut of goods and services essential for local livelihoods and for the wellbeing of society at large. The bounty provided by forests Forest resources are essential to the daily lives of about a billion people worldwide. In many developing countries, forest-based enterprises provide at least a third of all rural non-farm employment. Forests provide timber for construction of houses and boats, and fuelwood or charcoal for cooking or heating homes. In sub-Saharan Africa, most rural energy needs are supplied by forests. Forests also provide a wide variety of non-timber forest products such as medicinal plants, honey, gums and resins, wild fruits and nuts, rattan, mushrooms and wild meat. Households located near forests in tropical countries typically derive about a quarter of their income from forest products. In rural areas of the Congo Basin, many communities depend on wild meat for up to 80 per cent of the fats and proteins in their diets. In areas where fish are an important source of protein, forests, especially mangroves, support the healthy aquatic ecosystems necessary to maintain fish stocks. Fats sourced from oil palms are essential to rural diets in West and Central Africa, while starch from the sago palm is consumed on a regular basis by a million people across south-east Asia and the south-west Pacific. | 138 | Access to food and other products from the forest are especially important for vulnerable groups and in times of stress. Many people around the world rely on forestbased medicines as a first recourse for health problems. Forests are a particularly important source of income and employment for women. Women often derive income from the processing and marketing of non-timber forest products and are able to combine forest-related craft-making with other household responsibilities. Indigenous communities in East Kalimantan, Indonesia have documented 3,642 specific uses for 1,449 species of forest plants and animals, and of these 119 had no known substitute for the particular use. Forests provide services, too Forests provide especially important services to the agriculture sector. They offer a source and a reservoir of genetic diversity for many of the world’s important agricultural crops. Cassava, banana and plantains, cocoa, oil palm, coffee, rubber and most livestock species have their origin in forest ecosystems, and still have wild relatives there. Genes from wild relatives can often be useful in breeding resistance to pests and disease and to other sources of stress such as drought which will become increasingly important in a changing climate. Agricultural productivity is enhanced when forests and trees are maintained in and around farms. Forest cover provides natural protection to crops and livestock by providing shade, wind breaks, mitigating floods and aiding the control of pests. Biologically diverse forest ecosystems support birdlife, beneficial insects and spiders, as well as fungi, bacteria and viruses which all consume or control pests, reducing the need for farmers to use commercial www.climateactionprogramme.org

Redd, Sustainable Forest Management and Agriculture pesticides. In Costa Rica, plantation owners and farmers have paid for the conservation of neighbouring forest for the natural pest control they provide. In addition, up to 35 per cent of the world’s agricultural crops rely on pollinators for production, including forest species of bats and honey bees. For example, coffee cultivated in the fields furthest away from forested areas has been shown to have lower yields due to reduced pollination services. In addition, forests support the conservation of soil and water needed for sustainable agriculture, as trees can provide nutrients from leaf litter and also reduce the erosion of nutrient-rich top soil. Maintenance of natural forest cover can help control erosion which reduces water quality and the lifespan of irrigation infrastructure. At broader scales, forests are often central to maintaining water security. Forested catchments are a vital source of freshwater for human use, supplying an estimated 75 per cent of usable water globally. Recent studies show that the conversion of forests to pastures in Brazil may affect rainfall levels at the regional scale due to reduced evapotranspiration with significant implications for agricultural production. The risks posed by deforestation and degradation Unfortunately, these flows of forest goods and services are undermined or lost altogether when forests are converted to other uses or degraded through unsustainable use. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s area of tropical forests has continued to shrink by 13 million hectares per year over the last decade. The conversion of forested land to agricultural crops, pasture, and plantations is the principle driver of forest loss, aided by the intrusion of transport, mining and other infrastructure. Competition for land to produce food, fibre and bioenergy has increased the pressure to convert natural forests to other uses. Even when already-deforested land is available for such purposes, governance failures drive smallholders and commercial-scale investors alike to open up relatively undisturbed forest land instead. Perverse incentives may be created by conflicting ownership claims on lands that have already been cleared, poor law enforcement in remote areas and/or windfall profits available from clearing standing timber on forested land prior to replanting with another commercial crop. Keeping forests as forests is the best way to maintain their biodiversity. Even logged-over forests are much better for conserving biodiversity than the land-uses that often replace them, especially when they are adjacent to intact or old-growth forests. And there are many practical steps that can be taken to minimise the impact of timber extraction on forest ecosystems. For example, the most important impacts of logging on wildlife are often due to the increased hunting pressure and habitat fragmentation caused by associated road-building. Better regulation of hunting, reducing the width of roads and maintaining biological corridors can go a long way towards mitigating such impacts. In addition, a switch to reduced impact logging (RIL) could significantly decrease the impacts of timber extraction on both wildlife and carbon emissions. Inefficient and wasteful logging practices leave some 20 per cent of the volume of harvestable timber on the forest floor to rot or fuel forest fires. What we risk by depleting wildlife One form of forest degradation – the depletion of wildlife or ‘defaunation’ through hunting – is a particularly insidious threat to the sustainability of forest goods and services. When logging and mining are poorly regulated, increased access to the forest can transform what was formerly a sustainable subsistence activity into an unsustainable commercial one. As a result, forests can be depleted of their wildlife, with important implications for both human livelihoods and ecological sustainability. Wild meat is an important component of the diets of many rural communities in terms of both nutritional needs and cultural preference. The extirpation (local extinction) of species can thus threaten human health and culture. But survival of the forest itself also depends on maintaining biodiversity. Individual species and combinations of species play complex roles in sustaining others. Forest fauna may also play key roles in the pollination or seed dispersal necessary for the regeneration of trees and other plants. For example, ungulates such as wild pigs and antelopes are active seed dispersers and predators, and their absence can have a significant impact on forest regeneration and other ecosystem dynamics. Wildlife grazing on plants or preying on other species is often necessary to maintain species diversity, maintain food chains and control pests. For example, large herbivores such as elephants have a huge impact on forest vegetation structure, influencing the relative abundance of plant and other animal species. The loss of such ‘keystone species’ can have a disproportionate impact on the structure and composition of the ecosystem. Large animals and top predators, such as large cats or crocodiles, tend to be both keystone species and the preferred target of hunters. Local extinction of such species caused by uncontrolled hunting can thus result in significant loss of forest function, even if the trees are left standing. Forests are vulnerable to climate change Forests have an important role to play in helping societies adapt to climate change. Natural forests can help maintain the quantity and quality of surface water flows for drinking water and agricultural uses, even as rainfall patterns change. They can also increase the resilience of rural communities by providing a back-up source of food and income when climate change induces crop failure or other loss of livelihood. Diverse forest ecosystems are especially valuable in the context of a changing climate because they provide a variety of goods and services that reduce vulnerability to disruption in any particular source of income. It is also critical to recognise that forest ecosystems themselves are threatened by climate change. Forests are vulnerable to many of the predicted effects of global warming. For example, increased average temperatures and longer dry seasons are likely to combine to increase the incidence and severity of forest fires such as those experienced in Russia in mid-2010. www.climateactionprogramme.org | 139 |