Global rates of deforestation and forest degradation continue at persistently high levels, although annual net rates of forest loss have slowed to approximately 8 Mha as the extent of planted forests increases. Drivers of deforestation vary geographically. Conversion to both large- and small-scale agriculture remains dominant, and conversion to plantations, mining and infrastructure development is important in some regions. Forests, however, continue to be important to the livelihoods of millions of people, poor and rich, men and women, rural and urban. They provide a broad range of products that often escape the attention of decision makers, and an even broader range of services that are both poorly understood and commonly ignored. The direct contribution of forests to livelihoods varies widely with region, community, gender, ethnicity and management system. Research done by CIFOR with 50 research partners in over 8000 households living in and around forests in 25 developing countries shows that forest-derived income constitutes about 20% of their total household income, while income from the environment more generally — both forest and nonforest — makes up more than 25%. Globally, the most important part of that income comes from the sale of fuelwood, with timber sales second. The direct contribution of forests to diets is also considerable and often crucial, but largely hidden from urban and official eyes. Forest foods add not only calories but also necessary protein and micronutrients to the diets of rural people. The importance of forests’ direct contribution to diets and incomes may be eclipsed by their inputs to human well-being outside forests. Focusing on food, much more needs to be understood about the environmental services that forests provide to various types of agriculture, including the regulation of water flow and quality, mitigation of climatic extremes, provision of pollination services and germplasm for crop improvement, maintenance of nutrient cycling and soil fertility, control of agricultural pests and diseases, and other essential functions. These services are critical to the maintenance of most agricultural systems, including the most modern agribusinesses, but are seldom valued until they are lost. Knowledge of how forests can be managed to simultaneously optimise production of foods and environmental services is also little understood and thus little valued. Without proper attention to these issues, the importance of forests to human well-being will continue to be undervalued, ignored, and diminished, increasingly irreparably.


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