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International Day of Forests 2021 spells out urgency and benefits of forest restoration

Since 2012, March 21 has been designated by the UN as the International Day of Forests (IDF). This year the date falls on a Sunday, and so the FAO marked IDF 2021 on March 19 with a high-level digital ceremony. The ceremony was part of numerous initiatives launched to celebrate forests taking place all weekend across the globe.

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“Good governance, science, long-term commitment, and cross-sectoral cooperation are needed to restore forests and protect livelihoods. Let’s be part of Generation Restoration,” Dr Dongyu Qu Director-General FAO urged participants in his remarks.

Opening the high-level ceremony to mark the International Day of Forests, Dr Dongyu Qu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations,  described forest restoration as a path to global recovery and well-being.

Healthy forests mean healthy people. Forests provide us with fresh air, nutritious foods, clean water, and space for recreation, and also for civilization to continue. More than 1 billion people depend on forest foods and 2.4 billion people use fuelwood or charcoal to cook their daily meals. Forests are also green pharmacies. In developing countries, up to 80 percent of all medicinal drugs are plant-based, the Director-General said.

Build back better with forest restoration

Forests cover just over 30 percent of the global land area, yet they contain an estimated 80 percent of the world’s territorial biodiversity, home for most of the plant and animal species known to science.

Yet, despite their importance, the area of forests continues to shrink. FAO’s most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment states that each year, the world loses more than 10 million hectares of forest – an area about twice the size of Costa Rica. We can change this. We have the knowledge and the tools. Restoring forests – and managing them more sustainably – is a cost-effective option to provide multiple benefits for both people and the planet. Investments in forest restoration will contribute to economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by creating green jobs, generating livelihoods, greening cities, and increasing food security Dr Qu said.

The FAO Director-General also highlighted that said forest restoration “offers us a solution to build back better and achieve the future we want. Let us all become part of the ‘Generation Restoration’ and restore the planet for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life. And finally, we can have a better world, a better civilization to continue.”

High-level participation

In addition to the FAO Director-General, the 2021 International Day of Forests virtual ceremony saw HRH Princess Basma Bint Ali, of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, speak on how every tree counts to restore forest biodiversity while Claude Nyamugabo Bazibuhe, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development from the Democratic Republic of Congo, spoke of the imperative to regreen all continents.

“We are the last generation that can actually turn the tide on deforestation and it is our duty to actualize our role as stewards of the earth,” remarked H.R.H. Princess Basma Bint Ali, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan underlining the sense of urgency and opportunity.

Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner in charge of International Partnerships at the European Commission, referred to Europe’s Green New Deal, underlining the importance of international collaboration.

For her part, Andrea Meza, Minister for Environment and Energy, Costa Rica, stressed, in a video message, the importance to further engage and empower people everywhere to sustainably use forests for positive change.

Professor Abdoulaye Dia, Executive Secretary of the Pan African Agency of the Great Green Wall, provided an update on the Great Green Wall initiative which has the potential to transform the lives of millions living on the frontline of climate change.

Also by video message, Malik Amin Aslam, Advisor on Climate Change and Environment, Pakistan, spoke of his country’s vision for the forests of the future.

“Healthy forests mean healthy people – let us protect, manage and restore our forests to make sure we are on the right path to recovery and well-being,” said Mette Løyche Wilkie, Director Forestry Division FAO summing up the official IDF 2021 opening ceremony.

Forests and FAO’s work

This year’s IDF observance also takes place during the first year of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which focuses on scaling up efforts to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide and raising awareness of the importance of successful ecosystem restoration. FAO’s work in forestry is clustered around four priorities:

  • halting deforestation and forest degradation;
  • forest restoration, reforestation, and afforestation – the act or process of establishing a forest especially on land not previously forested;
  • conservation and sustainable use of forests to enhance forest-based livelihoods and,,
  • improving forest-related data and information and capacities.

New publications on drylands and forest landscape restoration

The urgent need to improve the management of the world’s drylands to ensure food security and healthy livelihoods is underlined in a new FAO publication launched in a technical session following the high-level ceremony.

Building back better: fostering the transition to bloom the dryland forests and agrosilvopastoral systems

Covering 41 percent of the global land area and home to 2.7 billion people, drylands supply about 60 percent of the world’s food production and support more than a quarter of forests and woodlands, according to the report Building climate-resilient dryland forests and agrosilvopastoral production systems.

With four billion people projected to be living in drylands by 2050, the publication outlines the transformational change required to ensure the sustainability of food production systems under climate change and after COVID-19, which includes giving a greater voice to marginalized dryland populations.

However, to meet global restoration needs and recover degraded forests and landscapes, adequate public and private investments are required to support restoration activities on the ground. FAO also launched the report, “Local financing mechanisms for forest and landscape restoration: A review of local level investment mechanisms” in a session to highlight financing opportunities for restoration that support local-level actors, including smallholder farmers, foresters, and landowners.

Katiella Mai Moussa, Regional Technical Advisor, UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), discussed supporting sustainable land management through decentralization and a local development fund.

The report provides an in-depth study of how financial mechanisms can be coordinated to maximize the leverage of finance and the adoption of practices at scale across the landscape. By examining some of the accessible investment mechanisms and planning strategies, it aims to support discussions, thinking, and decision-making on how to effectively find, select and use investments to provide appropriate incentives and maximize forest and landscape restoration actions.

Finally, the publication underlines how facilitators can bridge the gap between smallholders and investors, boosting investments, while promoting local ownership.

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