The forest is a complex ecosystem consisting mainly of crown-covered trees that buffers the earth and support myriad of bio diversities. To be characterized as a forest, a land should at least have trees to cover 0.5-1 hectares of its space, the trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5m at insitu. A natural forest should not be confused with a plantation, Natural forest can naturally be characterized by those previously mentioned qualities, whereas, a plantation is established by planting or/and seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation. Plantations are either introduced species, or intensely managed strands of indigenous species, which meet all the following criteria: one or two species at planting, even age class and a regular spacing.
Land that has trees higher than 5 meters, spanning more than 1 hectares and canopy of more than 30 percent are not defined as forest. Agricultural land, built-up areas, meadows and pastures and many more should not be considered a forest.
Sustainable Forest for the People and the Planet
For the past decades the earth has experienced massive decline in forest lands as a result of deforestation, urban development and climate change. In this view, nations from all around the world took a bold and decisive step in 2015 (as a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals), by adopting the 2030 agenda for sustainability (formally known as, The Sustainable Development Goals-SDGs). Relating to the forest, the SDG 15 “Life on land” focuses on: the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; application of procedures in combating desertification; halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss. Despite decrease in deforestation in few countries around the world, the forest ecosystem is still under threat.
The decade of the 2010s experienced a rise in unpreceded new commitments from government and private organizations alike to bring deforestation to a standstill. Unfortunately, looking back through the previous years, it is also clear that the world has fallen short on achieving its forest goals. While the impacts of climate change are being felt (2019 as recorded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration |NASA|, was the second hottest year in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration |NOAA| 140-year climate record just behind 2016 ); an invaluable climate change tools, the forest is still being lost at high rates. Human and natural disturbances are changing the landscape of the forest resource.
Human society and the global economy are intrinsically linked to the forest. More than 1.6 billion people depend on the forest for their livelihood survival. The forest also plays a major role in stabilizing the climate; providing food, water, wood products and medication; and it supports a large proportion of bio diverse ecosystem. Forest Peoples depend primarily and directly on the forest for subsistence, and also, for financial assistance in the form of trade through hunting, shifting agriculture, the gathering of wild forest products and a whole lot of other activities.
The State of the World Forest
Old growth, or “primary” tropical rainforest serves as habitat for trees that have been alive for a very long time. These kinds of trees absorb and store more carbon and are irreplaceable when it comes to biodiversity conservation. Old growth forest provide habitat for animals like the orangutans, the mountain gorillas and even tigers. When these forests are fell, there is a high possibility that it might never return to its original state. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI) research , 30 percent of global forest cover have been cleared, while another 20 percent has been degraded. Most of the rest have been fragmented, leaving only about 12 percent intact. All of this has shaped the forest landscape today and will propel the world into an uncertain new era.
- Forest plays a significant role in helping to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The forests of Asia and the Pacific together account for about one-fifth of the world’s forests and cover around 26 percent of the land in the region, or 734 million hectares .
- Africa is richly endowed with a vast tropical forest ranging from areas with the least forest cover in northern Africa to the Congo Basin in Central Africa, which houses the world’s second largest continuous block of tropical forest. Rainforest in Africa is 22 percent of the continent’s land and covers over 3.6 million square kilometers of land in West, East and Central Africa . South Africa and few other African countries also host a temperate rainforest.
- Australia has a total of 134 million hectares of forest, which is equivalent to 17 percent of Australia’s land area. Of this total forest area, determined as of 2016, 132 million hectares (98%) are ‘native forest’, 1.95 million hectares are ‘commercial plantations’ and 0.47 million hectares are ‘other forest ’.
- Forest and other wooded land today cover approximately 850 million ha in North America, slightly more than 40 percent of the total land area. Of this, forests account for about 500 million ha, or 25% of the land area .
- Suriname, French Guiana and Guyana have the highest percentage of forest cover, with 80 percent or more of their total land in forests. Brazil’s forest covers 64 percent of its land area, but in the Amazon region the percentage is much higher, approximately 85 percent. Other countries are below 50 and 60 percent . According to the U.N. FAO, 49.5 percent or about 864,351,000 ha of South America is forested.
- Large areas around the world that were experiencing deforestation have now seen present day forest boom. In Europe, more than two-fifth of their once deforested lands are now highly benefiting from restoration practices. Forest and woodland cover over 182 million hectares in the EU. This is about 42 percent of the EU’s total land .
- Researchers have found evidence of rainforests near the South Pole 90 million years ago, suggesting the climate was exceptionally warm at the time in the continent of Antarctica. They found fossil fragments of 13 trees and discovered fossils of trees that are over 260 million years old, meaning that this particular forest was growing at the end of the Permian Period, before the first dinosaurs .
Quantitative and Qualitative Forest contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals
There is quantitative evidence to show that forests are being managed more sustainably, and that forests and trees contribute to achieving SDGs related to: livelihoods and food security for many rural people; access to affordable energy; sustainable consumption and production; climate change mitigation; and sustainable forest management.
Qualitative evidence suggest that forest trees have played role in achieving the SDGs through the informal sector: agroforestry, opportunities to women, sustainable water management, tourism, sustainable cities, climate change adaptation, and tackling land degradation and biodiversity loss.
Forest Ecosystem Restoration
Forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. (One hectare=2.47 acres.) This is reduction from the pre-historic period of 5.9 billion hectares . The forest serves as the medium of energy production in the food chain. Meaning that, with the rate at which deforestation is rising, half the percent of humans will have to survive on inorganic food (fast food) which is somehow unhealthy and relatively affects longevity.
Reforestation and Afforestation are effective ways to fight global warming and bio diversity loss: by rebuilding animal habitats and reducing soil degradation, which are leading threats to the survival of decomposers. Deforestation damages soil by leaving the land fragile and directly in contact with high temperature from the Sun. Reforestation and afforestation can help to restore communities of micro-organisms, which can positively affect the rate of decomposition, while breaking down organic materials to add up the soil carbon content. The biogeochemical process will be restored and nutrient cycling can then be enhanced in the soil.
An area size of the UK is being lost every year, globally; the vast majority of the world’s tropical rainforest is being lost and this is causing a dire effect on the climate and the wildlife. The Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA), which was coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization, found that the world’s forest area decreased from 31.6 percent between 1990 and 2015. More than 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest is already gone, and many more forest trees are still threatened. Burkina Faso, along with other nations have adopted an integrated approach to managing agro-Silvopastoral landscapes. Landscape approaches that include managing trees and woodlands as an integrated matrix outside, as well as inside forest, can contribute effectively to multiple sustainable lifestyle.
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Written by Anthonette Quayee