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International Day of Forests highlights environmental and human health

International Day of Forests highlights environmental and human health
Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica) is an edible fungus found on oak (Quercus sp) and sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa), of which the latter is widely grown throughout Europe for its edible fruit, the chestnut.

The vital role forests play to ensure environmental health and healthy societies came under the spotlight at a global event held on March 21, that brought together ministers, experts, and youth activists to mark International Day of Forests 2023.

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Since 2012, March 21st has been designated by the UN as the International Day of Forests (IDF), and each IDF has a focal theme. This year the IDF theme focused on environmental and human health.

Hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the event also underscored how the protection and sustainable management of the world’s woodland areas needs to be a top priority given their crucial contribution to livelihoods, nutrition, biodiversity, and addressing the impacts of the climate crisis.

We need to scale up and accelerate action, now, and together. We need strong commitments from governments, international organizations, the public and private sectors, civil society, academia, and each of us individually. We need to enhance forest restoration through sustainable forest management that provides benefits for people and the planet. Forests are essential to human, animal, plant, and ecosystem health, which are fundamental to FAO’s One Health approach. Through a concerted global effort, we can reduce deforestation and forest degradation, improve forest resilience, and enhance the ecosystem that is important for people and the planet, said FAO Director-General Dr Dongyu Qu speaking at the event.

Source of nutrition

Forests are a source of food and nutrition for nearly a billion people and help adapt to and mitigate climate change, acting as buffers to heat and extreme weather events while absorbing and storing carbon.

They contain 50 000 plant species with healing properties and local communities around the world depend on them to treat a wide array of ailments. They also protect from diseases, acting as a natural barrier to disease transmission between animals and humans.

However, forests are under threat, and with that also the benefits derived from them. More than 30 percent of new diseases reported since 1960, for example, are attributed to land-use change, including deforestation.

Between 2015 and 2020 ten million hectares (ha) of forest were lost per year to deforestation.

The 2022 edition of FAO Forestry’s The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) explores the potential of three forest pathways for achieving green recovery and tackling multidimensional planetary crises, including climate change and biodiversity loss.

High-level engagement

The event included a high-level session: ‘Healthy forests for healthy people through policy, science and management’ with the participation of Maria-Orlea Vina, Minister for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Madagascar, Bhupender Yadav, Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, India, Sandra Vilardy Quiroga, Vice Minister for Policies and Environmental Standardization, Colombia and Günter Walkner, Minister Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Austria to FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) and Chairperson of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO).

FAO Director-General Qu also engaged in a conversation with next-generation forestry leaders – Tomiwa Oluwajuwon, Global Ambassador for Youth4Nature, and Alina Lehikoinen, co-head of the International Forestry Students Symposium 2023 Organizing Committee  – during a session that was moderated by Lindsey Hook, Head of Culture, World Food Forum.

We must empower the creativity and commitment of young people as key drivers of positive change. For this reason, I established the FAO Youth Committee and initiated the World Food Forum when I became FAO Director-General in 2019 as a space for young people around the world to incite positive change for the transformation of global agrifood systems, said Director-General Qu.

Inaugural Tree Cities of the World Award

FAO also launched the inaugural Tree Cities of World award at the event to recognize cities that provide a substantial contribution to the theme of the International Day of Forests.

Stefano Lo Russo (left) Mayor of Turin and Dongyu Qu, Director General FAO with the inaugural Tree Cities of World award (photo courtesy Maria De Cristofaro/FAO).

The Tree Cities of the World Award is part of a program of the same name that was launched in 2019 as a partnership between FAO and Arbor Day Foundation.

Its vision is to connect cities around the world in a new network dedicated to adopting the most successful approaches to managing urban trees and forests.

The city of Turin, Italy, received the award on behalf of all cities participating in the program.

The city was recognized for the creation of green spaces in an urban setting. It has around 150 000 trees in its urban parks and gardens, 20 000 of which have been planted in the past few years.

FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo presented the award to the Mayor of Turin, Stefano Lo Russo.

The importance of urban forests and green cities will be highlighted at the 2nd World Forum on Urban Forests that will be held in Washington DC, United States (US) in October this year.

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