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World Forestry Congress: Forests Are ‘More Than Trees’

by Sunny Lewis

DURBAN, South Africa, September 16, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Investing in forestry means investing not only in trees but in people and in sustainable development, delegates to the 14th World Forestry Congress in Durban affirmed last week.

Held with the theme “Forests and People: Investing in a Sustainable Future,” the week-long meeting from September 7-11 took place under the auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The first World Forestry Congress was held in Rome in 1926; meetings have taken place roughly every six years since.

This was the first World Forestry Congress organized in Africa. Nearly 4,000 delegates from 142 countries represented governments and public agencies, international organizations, the private sector, academic and research institutions and nongovernmental, community and indigenous groups.

Congress Secretary-General Trevor Abrahams told delegates of the importance of restoring hope, dignity and social capital for sustainable forest management, particularly amongst youth.

Prince Laurent of Belgium called for an eco-contribution from cancelled debts to be allocated to a fund to safeguard the environment.

Sessions focused on people-centered forestry, socioeconomic issues, and the role of forests, trees and forestry in national economic development.

In their outcome document, the Durban Declaration, delegates offered a vision of forests that play “a decisive role” in ending hunger, improving livelihoods and combating climate change.

The Durban Declaration says, “Forests are more than trees and are fundamental for food security and improved livelihoods. The forests of the future will increase the resilience of communities by providing food, wood energy, shelter, fodder and fibre; generating income and employment to allow communities and societies to prosper; harbouring biodiversity; and supporting sustainable agriculture and human wellbeing by stabilizing soils and climate and regulating water flows.”

“Sustainable forest management requires integrated approaches to land use in addressing the drivers of deforestation and conflicts over land use,” the declaration states. Gender equality and the enthusiasm of the youth as a source of inspiration were emphasized.

“The declaration reflects the extremely rich and diverse set of viewpoints and experiences of all participants in the Congress, who recommended ways to make the vision a reality,” said Tiina Vähänen, deputy director of FAO’s Forest Assessment, Management and Conservation Division.

An international five-year action plan to recognize the role of trees and forests in ensuring sustainable management of one of the world’s largest sources of freshwater was introduced at the meeting.

At a panel discussion on investments to build a resilient future, World Agroforestry Centre chief Tony Simons said that for sustainability and resilience to be “operational and not just aspirational,” managers must focus on individual action; sustainable production and consumption; and use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a platform to promote better forestry.

Simons said there is a dearth of bankable projects. He said investors need to see strong, viable pilot cases before they can commit resources.

At the Congress, FAO released its Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, covering 234 countries and territories.

It finds that the world’s forests continue to shrink as populations increase and forest land is converted to agriculture and development. Still, over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed by more than half.

Roughly 129 million hectares of forest – an area almost equal in size to South Africa – have been lost since 1990, finds the FAO’s assessment.

Yet an increasing number of forest areas have come under protection, while more countries are improving forest management with better monitoring of forests and a greater involvement of local communities in planning and policy development.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said, “The direction of change is positive, but we need to do better. We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if we do not preserve our forests and sustainably use the many resources they offer us.”

During the closing dinner gala, Gertrude Kenyangi of Uganda was presented with the Wangari Maathai Forest Champions Award 2015 in recognition of her extraordinary efforts to improve and sustain forests in southwestern Uganda and the people who depend on them. The award carries a cash prize of US$20,000.

Kenyangi described how the Women and Environment Development Organization she founded supports women to lead the way in grassroots agro-forestry initiatives in Uganda and across Africa.


Featured Image: Big trees in a Ugandan forest (Photo by Annette Bouvain creative commons license via Flickr)

Slideshow Images: 01: Miss Earth South Africa 2014, Ilze Saunders, with drummers, creates excitement in the corridors of the World Forestry Congress, September 8, 2015 (Photo copyright FAO / Giuseppe Carotenuto, Editorial Use only via Flickr) 02: Flashmob of youths at the World Forestry Congress, Durban, South Africa, September 9, 2015 (Photo copyright FAO / Giuseppe Carotenuto, Editorial Use only via Flickr) 03: Government officials enter the iNkosi Albert Luthuli Convention Center in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa on opening day of the World Forestry Congress, September 7, 2015 (Photo courtesy Government of South Africa)

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