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Can growing demand for forest products create jobs, build resilience and fight poverty?

By Diji Chandrasekharan Behr, PROFOR Manager and Senior Natural Resource Economist at the World Bank Group.

Logging and extracting timber from forests have gotten a bad reputation, and in many cases rightly so. Most of us have heard stories of logging operations that have evicted forest dependent households or restricted their access to forests that are vital for their well-being. There are also the cases of unsustainable timber extraction destroying habitat for primates and large mammals. Yet, we all have wood products in our house --- from the smallest items such as toothpicks to bookshelves or floor boards -- and demand for such wood products is growing across the globe. The question is how can we respond to the growing demand for wood in a manner that helps reduce poverty, diversify rural economies, improve forest governance, support employment creation & protect ecosystem services?

This question is something we delved into at the IUFRO World Congress where PROFOR hosted a panel on “Enabling Productive Uses of Forests that Reduce Poverty, Create Jobs and Build Resilience.”  The panel discussed how economic growth in many countries and the rapidly growing ‘global middle class’, expected to increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030 (see graphic), is resulting in greater purchasing power, more construction, more demand for energy, and so on. This growing demand presents an opportunity for forests that we should seize. We heard from different experts and individuals about opportunities that exist to do this.

There were ideas associated with the establishment of “new generation plantations” for restoration of degraded lands, creating jobs from value addition (e.g., in the furniture industry), and using certification to ensure sustainable practices. There was support for small and medium scale enterprises, forming associations of smallholders, community forestry, and more. We also discussed competing land use demands and how growing demand for other commodities (e.g., palm oil, beef, soya, etc.) drives forest land conversion. On this point, participants discussed whether sustainably managing productive forests to provide jobs and other benefits to local communities could be a good defense against such encroachment on forests or if other approaches might be needed to address both the legal and the illegal agrocoversion.

We want to keep this conversation going and want to hear your ideas on this topic. Please post a comment below to share your thoughts and engage in tackling this question.

Source: Kharas, 2010