Forests of the World in Underdeveloped Nations

FAO's State of World Forestry and the Developing Countries

Lush foliage in Harenna Forest, Harenna Escarpment, Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia
Harenna Escarpment lies to the south of the Bale Mountains National Park. Below the escarpment is one of the largest and most extensive forests remaining in Ethiopia, the Harenna Forest. The Harenna Forest is one of the few remaining natural forests in the country. It is known for its mammals, amphibians and birds, including many endemic species. One such endemic species is the tree Maytenus harenensis which is also classified by the IUCN as vulnerable due to the threat of logging. Roger de la Harpe / Getty Images

I have always felt that the overall good health of our forests and sustained forest ecosystems are alive and for the most part, doing well. That has been my position through the lens of a forest practitioner most comfortable with a North American and European perspective of a "success" that may not represent all global forests.

It seems to me that many resource managers (I include myself) follow a fruitful forest management path which is, for the most part, working well for them and within their comfort zone. With some smugness, we continue to practice our craft while not quite ignoring but certainly not directly tuned into the condition of the majority of the Earth's forests.

Relatively wealthy and stable countries see forests and the practice of forestry much differently than do underdeveloped and overpopulated countries with shrinking unregulated forests. The affluent regions on our planet are mostly separated from their forests by urbanization and with some detachment from forest management practices used in these regions. The average citizen in most of North America has the luxury of seeing trees in the landscape and to have access to recreation in both managed and protected forests. Many people throughout a large portion of  the world do not

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) does a periodic assessment that addresses larger worldwide issues and called the State of the World's Forests (SWF). Large communities of people on our planet do not have the same forest perspective, especially those that live in poorer, more isolated nations. Many, if not most, of these people are using their forests to survive. Properly managing forest ecosystems in "third world" countries may be one of the most important issues with populations facing the effects of deforestation, poor water quality with a reduction of quality of life.

FAO's State of the World's Forest in the "Third World"

The latest data collected by the United Nation's FAO in their "state of the forests study" addresses "direct and measurable impacts of forests on peoples’ lives."  The data, collected in 2014, includes estimated production and consumption of manufactured wood products and non-wood forest products essential for food, energy, shelter and health.

In many parts of the world, these products and forest services provide the largest source of income to those that live in and around forests. The SWF study provides supporting evidence that socioeconomic benefits from their forests are relatively more important in rural areas in less developed countries than they are in more industrialized and urbanized nations.

FAO admits that trying to estimate the forest influenced income in less developed regions is "difficult to tease out". With that said SWF tries to estimate the "formal" income including wages, profits and timber revenue earned, plus the income earned in "informal" activities, such as the production of woodfuel and a multitude of non-wood forest products. 

They calculated that the "formal" forest timber sector amounts to just over US$600 billion and accounts for about 0.9 percent of the global economy. The additional, payments for environmental services and income from the "informal" production of woodfuel, shelter and the non-wood forest products (like medicines and food), amount to an additional US$124 billion, bringing the total to US$730 billion or 1.1 percent of the global economy.

FAO's Objectives on Improving the Underdeveloped World's Forests

Even wealthy, environmentally conscious countries rarely attain and capture the full value their forests offer. It is impossible to please every forest interest. Managing a forest for the "greater good" of people, many who harbor hot-button environmental issues, can be no-win in the 21st Century. With the best forest planning and management decisions, managing a forest ecosystem can fail and often falls short of perfect depending on your persuasion.

You can imagine how difficult this can be where forest resources are becoming scarce, the uneducated population struggles just to survive, their government has little to no regulations or those regs are not enforced and there is no money to pay for education and recovery. Understanding this, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture embraces four global objectives to overcome the loss of forests, increase the human benefits of forests, encourage sustained forests and increase funding for forest development assistance.

The four Global Objectives on forests developed by FAO are:

  1. Reverse the loss of forest cover worldwide through sustainable forest management, including protection, restoration, afforestation and reforestation, and increase efforts to prevent forest degradation.
  2. Enhance forest-based economic, social and environmental benefits, and in doing so, improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent people.
  3. Increase significantly the area of sustainably managed forests, including protected forests, and increase the proportion of forest products harvested from sustainably managed forests.
  4. Increase official development assistance for sustainable forest management by increasing additional financial resources from all sources for the implementation of sustainable forest management.

Defining World Forest's Most Critical Issues

The Lack of Forest Land-use Policy - There is a need for governments and/or communities to set forward-thinking policy on the use, protection and management of exploited lands in and around developing forests.

The Lack of Practices that Increase the Economics of Forestry  - There is a need to bring about a shift, from poor forest practices to good forest practices, to forest "investments" more likely to yield significant increases in local income and a higher quality of life.

The Lack of Soil and Water Protection in Forests - There is a need for watershed protection and management, especially on land where tree cover is decreasing and exploited for firewood. Planting drought-resistant or drought-evading trees on dry lands is critical.

The Lack of Forest Management in Tropical Forests - There is a need for forest management systems that increase tree growth and yields in tropical forest regions. These tropical rainforests, by their very nature and location, offer the best tree-growing possibilities in the world.

Wood Shortages  - Wood is a necessary source for most of the energy used to fuel many underdeveloped countries and world regions. This demand for wood for fuel along with the exportation of wood to wealthy countries with limited wood supplies causes wood source scarcity.

The Lack of Forestry Education - There is a need for governments, not only to understand, but implement proper forest policy. Tree managers must use the proper planting and management techniques and timber fellers following professional harvest procedures.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, State of the World's Forests 2014; FAO document, Priorities in World Forestry, H.L. Shirley