Forests and Livelihoods
This year’s World Wildlife Day highlights the immense value of forests and forest-dwelling wildlife to the livelihoods of the communities based there, and to the well-being of people living much further away. Never before has it been so important to remember that in order to sustain people and the planet – the theme for this year’s event – forests must be managed sustainably.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of forests to biodiversity, or the extent to which humans depend on both for a wide range of valuable ecosystem services. Forests are home to the majority of life on land – both animal and plant species.
At least 1 billion people rely directly on forests for food in the form of edible plants, mushrooms, insects, fish and wildmeat, and many more depend on them for water, medicine, energy, shelter, and income. Given the intricate relationship between humans and forests, the repercussions of upsetting this fine balance are grave indeed.
The past 12 months were a wake-up call to the dangers of stepping out of kilter with nature, as we know that more than 70% of emerging infectious diseases, and almost all recent pandemics, have originated in livestock and wildlife.
Forests have traditionally served as a natural barrier to disease transmission between animals and humans, but as we increasingly encroach on wildlife habitats to pursue expansion of agriculture, settlements and infrastructure, the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to people rises exponentially.
The growing demand for wildmeat, especially in urban settings, is increasing humans’ exposure to zoonotic diseases and hunting pressure in forests. Wildmeat is an essential source of food for millions of indigenous and rural people, accounting for more than 50 percent of protein intake in many tropical and subtropical regions.
But unless hunting and consumption are conducted in a sustainable manner, that supply will gradually diminish, with serious implications for food security. Already, recent studies estimate that 285 mammal species are threatened with extinction due to hunting for wildmeat.
Dr QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
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