International Day of the Forest 2024

by | Mar 21, 2024

Silence. Peace. Recreation. Nature experience.

These are the first terms that probably come to mind for most people in Germany regarding the topic of forests. The forest consciously plays a significant role in leisure activities for most people in Germany, but the forest is so multifaceted, and its meanings are so diverse depending on who in the world is asked and from which perspective.

For example, for some people living in the Global South, the forest is vital for survival, as the wood from trees is an essential source of raw material and is indispensable for making fire.

The focal theme, Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) for this International Day of Forests, focuses on the common significance that forests have for all people, animals, and our planet. It is essential for a functioning ecosystem and can actively be used to combat climate change.

The International Day of Forests has been celebtrated since 1970 and was initiated with the intention of drawing attention to the massive deforestation occurring on Earth.

A brief global forest status report

Originally, there were six billion hectares of forests on Earth; now, there are only four billion hectares. The reason for this is human activities driven by economic interests, resulting in environmental impacts and overexploitation that the forest cannot offset, thus steadily shrinking the forest cover worldwide.

Concrete examples include:

  • the type of forest management
  • air pollution
  • weather and climate (such as drought),
  • pests
  • damage from wildlife
  • forest fires
  • fragmentation of forest areas
  • introduction of non-native, invasive plant species.

What is the situation in the Global South?

Firstly, it should be noted that the rainforest in Central Africa, after the Amazon, is the second-largest tropical rainforest area in the world. Unfortunately, this place has gained an infamous reputation among experts; it has become the new epicenter of global deforestation.

Every year, 3.9 million hectares of forest are lost there. Some environmental and conservationists attribute this to the rapid population growth in the Global South, leading to the need for more agriculture to feed everyone.

However, from the German perspective, this is a very one-sided view. This can be easily explained by looking at Germans’ favorite sweets. Chocolate ranks at the top among the favorite sweets in Germany. Milka is the number one favorite chocolate brand in Germany.

At first glance, farming methods in the Global South appear to be small-scale. However, many of the farmers work essentially as employees for large, internationally operating companies. This is important to know when reading statistics on this matter, as it is often referred to as “deforestation due to population pressure,” but it is industrial use.

According to Friedel Huetz-Adams, a consultant for West Africa at the Bonn-based Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism, 90% of the world’s cocoa crop is produced by small or family farms. This is also the case in the world’s leading cocoa-exporting nation, Côte d’Ivoire.

Milka produces in Côte d’Ivoire, among other places. The chocolate hunger of industrialized nations continues to grow. The largest importers are: 25% Netherlands, 13% USA, 11% Germany, 10% Belgium, 27% others, 14 other EU countries.

A disturbing example of forest loss is Côte d’Ivoire. It has lost 80% of its forest cover since 1960. Sustainable management is simply too expensive for farmers because the total cost for a bar of milk chocolate is only 7 cents, of which farmers usually receive four to five cents. As a result, farmers cannot afford to wait for the regeneration of existing cultivation areas but must continue to clear forests further and further.

Encouraging news

The goal is clear; more than a hundred countries have pledged to halt deforestation by 2030. Fifty countries have already actively embarked on this path, including Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia. This is particularly important in these countries, as they also contain rainforests, which are important CO2 sinks and a crucial part of the fight against global warming.

“Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World”

To revisit the focal theme of the FAO, it is important to accept the fact that climate change cannot be entirely stopped but can only be mitigated. One means of mitigating climate change is through forests. However, not in their current state but through transformation supported by humans to survive and contribute to combating climate change. In Germany, this can be seen in the transformation of monoculture forests of spruce or pine into species-rich and natural mixed forests by foresters gradually. The reason for this is their low susceptibility to drought and heat stress.

From German perspective, global innovative forest conservation projects should always adopt a holistic approach that considers social, ecological, economic, and political aspects and aims for long-term results. It is essential to ensure the involvement of affected communities and stakeholders and promote local solutions based on specific needs and realities on the ground. 

However, each of us can contribute to forest protection; buying Fairtrade chocolate or adhering to certain rules when in the forest already makes a contribution to saving the forest and, consequently, the Earth.