The latest edition of the biennial State of the World’s Forests (SOFO) report launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on the eve of the World Forestry Congress in Seoul outlines the crucial role of trees and forests in the fight against multiple environmental, health and economic crises. It offers “pathways” for this potential to be effectively realized.
Scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) have been exploring the multiple roles of trees and tropical forests in building inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies for decades.
In the Amazon basin, where agricultural expansion and climate change threaten to push the biome beyond an irreversible ecological “tipping point” – with disastrous local and global consequences – the need to value, protect and restoring forest ecosystems is particularly crucial.
We asked Manuel Guariguata, CIFOR-ICRAF Peru’s senior scientist specializing in tropical forest ecology and forest management for production and conservation, for his thoughts on what the new SOFO report might mean in the context Amazonian.
Q: How have the interrelated crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and the emergence of new diseases made their presence felt in the Amazon over the past two years?
A: The ability of tropical countries to conserve forests may have been undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic. The total area deforested across the global tropics in 2020 was double that of the previous year; across the Amazon, the area of deforestation has increased by 150%. The closures and budget cuts of environmental agencies, as well as the redeployments of law enforcement to fight the pandemic, have paved the way for an increase in illegal activities.
Company commitments to zero deforestation may also have been relaxed during the pandemic, in order to maintain the supply of agricultural products to importing countries during COVID-19-related lockdowns. In the Peruvian Amazon, forest cover loss in 2020 increased by around 37% from 2019 levels, alongside an increase in violent incidents against indigenous leaders and conservationists.
COVID-related lockdowns have also prevented many people from accessing treatments for non-COVID infectious diseases. The latest World Health Organization report on malaria revealed that in 2020, 14 million more cases were recorded than in 2019; there were also 69,000 additional deaths, more than half of which are associated with disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment services due to the pandemic. For example, in the Amazon region of Loreto, COVID-19 led to an almost complete shutdown of the primary health care system in 2020, which hampered the diagnosis and treatment of endemic mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue. , chikungunya and malaria.
Q: The report outlines several pathways to simultaneously support economic and environmental recovery. How could this best be done in the context of Amazon? What are the specific challenges to support the “green recovery” there?
A: The report mentions halting deforestation as a key pathway. In an Amazonian context, particular attention should be given to the demonstrated role of indigenous and local communities in this regard. It should be noted that almost half of the intact and primary forest cover of the Amazon Basin is on officially recognized indigenous lands. A recent FAO report showed that between 2000 and 2016, basin-wide forest loss decreased by 5% in indigenous forest lands, compared to 11% outside them. This clearly translates into massive amounts of carbon sequestered and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and underscores the need to further strengthen collective land rights, while promoting community and sustainable use of forests.
Q: How do the key messages from SOFO2022 align with the situation in the Amazon more generally? Is there anything that, from your point of view, deserves more attention?
A: SOFO 2022 calls for strengthening the implementation of tree-based systems and agroforestry as key activities for the restoration of degraded forest lands. In fact, a recent report identified around 2,700 forest restoration initiatives in the Brazilian Amazon alone – most of which involved agroforestry and tree planting approaches. Interestingly, only a very small proportion of these initiatives considered natural forest regeneration as a cost-effective option to restore soils, biodiversity and ecosystem attributes. In Brazil, the legal and normative frameworks conducive to the conservation and sustainable use of secondary forests are largely non-existent, while in Peru, the absence of official government statistics on extent, geography and ownership, associated weak state capacity, prevents the development of governance structures that can stimulate their sustainable management.
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