Sustainably reducing deforestation and conserving biodiversity requires an overhaul in the global trade and harvesting of wood products – UN’s FAO

Changing the ways in which wood is harvested and traded for timber, paper and other uses is essential to fighting deforestation and the negative effects of climate change, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on the eve of a global meeting on sustainable wood production.

More than one hundred forestry experts from international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and public and private sectors from all regions of the world are in Nanning 23-25 November, and are meeting in parallel to the China-ASEAN EXPO Forest & Wood Products 2019.

FAO, the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the China National Forest Products Industry Association (CNFPIA) have organized the discussion on ways to promote sustainable wood trade and production through such measures as exchanges of technical expertise, increased South-South cooperation, committment to  legality, and awareness of end consumers.

Sustainable wood, better lives

People on every continent use wood products and many of the world’s poorest households rely directly on timber and other forest resources for their subsistence and income. But unsustainable practices are accelerating deforestation and threatening livelihoods over the long term.

“Sustainable wood means less deforestation, cleaner air and water, more stable land and better livelihoods, including for rural populations and indigenous communities. It is a driver of sustainable rural development and the basis of a sustainable bioeconomy,” said Thais Linhares-Juvenal, FAO Senior Forestry Officer.

“Until now, sustainable wood trade has received relatively little attention in international development circles. It is critical that we focus on trade practices to curb the presence of illegal wood in the markets and increase the market value of sustainable products, encouraging investments in the sector,” she added.

The meeting is linked to the Sustainable Wood for a Sustainable World Initiative (SW4SW). The initiative was formed in 2018 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and various partners to reconcile the international demand for wood with social, economic and environmental needs.

Finding alternatives

The newest member of the initiative’s steering committee is the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which joined SW4SW in 2019.

CITES works with countries to protect roughly 5 000 species of animals and 28 000 species of plants. It recently took steps to curb trade of the delicate and slow-growing mukula tree of southern-central Africa, by placing it on a list of endangered species to be monitored.

The reddish wood of the mukula tree, harvested primarily in Zambia along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is highly-valued among consumers in China but its sale has been contributing to the degradation of local forests.

Thanks to improved technologies and methodologies, enforcement and monitoring of the ways in which wood products are harvested and sold has become much cheaper and more transparent.

“There is a need to strengthen the capacities of producers, including smallholders, to carry out sustainable practices and to gain access to markets that support them,” Linhares-Juvenal said.