1.3 billion people around the world depend on forests for their livelihood—that is 20% of the global population. This includes income from the sale of trees and tree-related products. It also includes the value of fruit, fodder, medicines, and other direct or indirect products that they consume.
However, the restoration of forest landscape at a global scale needs a new vision for an integrated forest economy that appreciates and understands forests along their entire value chain. Thus it is crucial to see forest landscape restoration efforts as much more than just protecting forests, but as a force for economic growth and poverty reduction.
Indeed, restoring forest landscapes could bring renewed economic opportunity, improved water supply, and climate resilience. IUCN estimates the annual net benefit of restoring 150 million hectares of land at approximately US$85 billion per year. In addition, such restoration would sequester massive amounts of greenhouse gases and go a long way towards stabilizing climate change at 2 degrees Celsius.
It is in this context that forest landscape restoration is receiving increasing attention due to a huge growth in demand for forest products and bioenergy around the world.
If the ambitious scale for the global and national forest restoration targets is to be achieved, the economic arguments should be back at the center, along with the conservation ones. It is not just forests that matter. In most cases, it will help to approach the challenges by looking at tree-based systems. Trees on farms are more widespread than most reported, and can provide substantial benefits.
A study shows that one-third of rural farms report growing trees and, on average, these farms are economically better off than those that don’t. The study also shows evidence that trees on farms can improve the productivity of landscapes. Trees on farms, however, are overlooked both by national agriculture and forest policies as they fall somehow in between these two camps.
Two other studies try to understand the key factors driving the adoption of tree-based systems (TBS) at scale in Malawi and Rwanda, which result in improved soil fertility, higher crop yields, and increased agricultural production by helping control soil erosion, replenishing soil organic matter and nutrients, while diversifying income and building resilience to climate shocks.
As more evidence starts to show not only the environmental benefits but also the economic ones, it will be important to look at tree-based economic systems in a more holistic way, systematically analyzing the regulatory, financial, and technical assistance needs of those smallholders and small companies would need, not only during the planting process but along the entire value chain.
These examples are evidence of the great environmental, economic, and poverty reduction opportunities that forest landscape restoration can offer. They are also a reminder that when thinking of forests, we must not forget to see the economic value of trees.