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Never before has forests received so much public attention. Between forest fires of unprecedented proportions in the Arctic and the Amazon; trees becoming less resistant to stressors such as drought, pests and diseases; and the uncontrolled exploitation of forests for mining, agriculture and timber; their sorry tale is being repeated on newsfeeds and lamented worldwide.

The importance of tropical forests for global wellbeing and the need to urgently curb deforestation and forest degradation gives context to the news.

“Tropical forests are a globally significant resource for a number of reasons – their role in carbon storage, their biodiversity value, their role in sustaining local livelihoods, and their role in regulating the atmospheric hydrological cycle,” says Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) scientist, Manuel Guariguata.

“A growing body of evidence accumulated over the last few years strongly indicates that tropical deforestation disrupts the movement of water in the atmosphere, causing major alterations in rainfall over vast distances potentially leading to drought in key agricultural areas worldwide. This has tremendous implications for the world’s food security. That is, the forests cause the rainfall, not the other way around.”

The drivers of deforestation are multiple and they interact in many ways: Poverty; poor legal enforcement; unclear and/or overlapping land use designations by uncoordinated government agencies; agroindustrial expansion by influential elites; price hikes of international commodities such as cocoa or coffee; and poor government capacity to enforce land use change legislation in agricultural frontiers. Deforestation driven by commercial agriculture and cattle rearing is a persistent problem across tropical countries, as are uncontrolled mining of precious minerals and illegal logging activities.

Yet, there are many possible solutions and tools to tackle the problem of deforestation and to help make forests more resilient to climate change, says Guariguata. These include:

  • Securing access and tenure rights to Indigenous communities
    There is scientific evidence across Amazon basin countries, for example, that says management by indigenous communities helps to curb deforestation, reduce forest carbon emissions, and conserve biodiversity.
  • Encouraging the agro-industrialist private sector to adopt voluntary sustainability standards aiming at zero deforestation
    The implementation of private sector commitments to halt deforestation currently varies across products. For example, voluntary sustainability standards for palm oil are most advanced, followed by cocoa and soy. In contrast, standards for coffee and beef lag behind, despite the fact that cattle raising for beef is one of the main causes of tropical deforestation.
  • Improving the coherence and complementarity of forest conservation and sustainable use policies
    This applies not only to government agencies with a forest mandate, and across local and national levels, but also to all stakeholders in the landscape such as local communities, agriculture and forestry enterprises, environmental NGOs and civil society at large. They have to talk with each other and work with each other in constructive ways to effectively curb deforestation, reconcile conflicting land uses and restore degraded land to build more resilient and diverse landscapes for the future.

Guariguata will be taking his recommendations to International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) World Congress in Curitiba, Brazil, later this month, of which he sits on the Board representing Latin America and the Caribbean.

The widespread nature of the problems of deforestation, forest degradation and land-related conflicts, especially in tropical regions, and the equally widespread nature of their negative effects as they ripple outward across cultures and borders, he says, will be addressed in many of the scientific sessions held.

Related Congress outcomes will be disseminated broadly to stakeholders and the international media. In this way, IUFRO seeks to make a substantial contribution to raising public awareness and provide policy makers with the information needed to make evidence-based decisions.

Professor Mike Wingfield, President of IUFRO to use the Congress as a platform for open discussions on critical issues, for sharing knowledge and for offering advice based on “sound scientific evidence.”

IUFRO is a strictly scientific, independent, non-profit, non-governmental and non-discriminatory organization, he adds.


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