Forests key for livelihoods and food security in Near East and North Africa

Forests key for livelihoods and food security in Near East and North Africa

Near East Forestry and Range Commission calls for strengthened efforts to reduce forest degradation and deforestation

21 October 2021, Cairo – Restoring and sustainably managing forests to maximize their positive contributions to rural livelihoods and food security is a key challenge for the Near East and North Africa, the 25thSession of the Near East Forestry and Range Commission (NEFRC) heard this week.

Hosted virtually by Egypt, the session also highlighted the need for sustainable agri-food systems that contribute to sustainable forest and land management.

“Evidence points to a growing trend: countries are able to achieve food security without reducing their forest cover,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.

FAO Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa Abdulhakim Elwaer underlined, in a speech delivered by Serge Nakouzi, Deputy resident Representative, on his behalf the importance of land-use systems that integrate agriculture, livestock and trees.

“To better manage and conserve our forest and rangeland resources we need to rethink the way we are doing business,” Elwaer  said.

Decreasing forest area

The Near East and North Africa accounts for 10 percent of the world’s land surface but contains only 1 percent of the world’s forests, or 41.5 million hectares , according to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment.

Forests are nevertheless vital for rural livelihoods in the region, producing fuelwood, fodder, food and medicines. They also provide essential ecosystem services that support sustainable agriculture, such as protecting soils, regulating water supply, providing habitats for pollinators and helping to mitigate climate change.

However, forest area in the Near East and North Africa continues to decrease, with a reported net loss of 2.8 million hectares of forest (-6 percent) between 1990 and 2020, the session heard.

“Forests and rangelands suffer from mounting pressures caused by human and natural factors such as land-use change, fires, drought and climate change, leading to their rapid degradation,” Elwaer said.

Wildfires and conflict

The Commission called for increased efforts to reduce forest and rangeland degradation and deforestation, and highlighted opportunities provided by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) for large-scale forest restoration.

Experts underlined the need to strengthen regional collaboration to protect forests in the face of challenges related to climate change, including forest and wildland fires – which this year took a heavy toll on Algeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey – and the spread of pests and diseases that affect the health of forest trees.

Conflict in the region has meanwhile led to degraded forests and grasslands due to unsustainable use by displaced people, with immediate support needed to protect and restore these natural resources in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan, the session heard.

The Commission also called on countries to invest in boosting the potential of the region’s non-wood forest products, which include honey, pine nuts, tree gums and medicinal and aromatic plants.

About the Near East Forestry and Range Commission

The mandate of the Near East Forestry and Range Commission is to advise FAO on the most important issues relating to forests in the Near East and North Africa, based on national and regional priorities of the countries.

The 25th session of the Forestry Commission was attended by more than experts from countries of the region, and representatives from global and regional intergovernmental organizations. El-Said El-Qosair , Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, opened the session, through his advisor Mr Naiim Moselhy who represented him in the Session..