Economic uses of forests
Values in numbers
- 30% of the world's forests are primarily used for production of wood and non-wood products.
- The total global trade in forest products was valued at around $379 billion in 2005.
- The livelihoods of 1.6 billion people depend on forests.
Putting a price on forests
Even more important is fuel wood and fodder, especially in developing nations, where people depend on wood almost entirely for their household energy.
Given the immense economic benefit of forests, the demand for commercial timber and other products is ever increasing. Already, there are signs of a growing shortage of tropical hardwoods. This is due to over-harvesting of timber, but also increasing demands from a growing human population, agriculture, mining and water storage.
But if demand for timber is fast dwindling forests, why continue using it? Why not look for alternatives? In environmental terms, there are both positives and negatives in using wood-based material.
The good thing is, timber is a natural product and can be used with minimum processing. It occurs almost worldwide, and is essentially a renewable and recyclable resource. Because of its natural origins, most types of wood are fairly durable. Timber has a high strength to weight ratio that allows for efficient transportation.
...but exploited beyond sustainable limits
On the negative side, the high demand for timber products encourages illegal and unregulated logging.
Transporting of timber also adds to greenhouse gas emissions.
Timber processing can also have undesirable effects on the environment. Dust emissions result from the sawing and sanding of wood-based products and toxic chemicals are sometimes used to treat the wood. Nonetheless, the processing of other everyday materials such as plastics and aluminium are far more damaging.
Timber is used in the manufacture of.......
- packaging material
- food thickeners
- building materials
Non Timber Forest Products
As important as timber are the non-wood products that are procured from forests. Known as NTFP or NWFP (non-timber or non-wood forest products) These include all biological products extracted from forests apart from timber.
The value of non-wood forest product removals was estimated at US$18.5 billion in 2005, with food products accounting for the biggest share.
Up to 80% of the population in developing countries depend on NTFP for subsistence, both economically and for nutrition. NTFP are especially important to women in developing countries from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Far East.
Problems faced by NTFPThough conservation agencies are addressing the issue of sustainable production of NTFP, there are a number of challenges to be met, some of which include the disappearing forest cover, inequitable market access of marginalised populations and the monopolisation of high - value NTFP by logging and poaching mafia.
There are still gaps in our understanding of NTFPs and their importance. Existing knowledge is not well documented, and policy development is still largely disconnected from experiences from the field.
What are NTFP?
- edible plants
- medicinal products
- oils for cosmetics
- ornamental plants
- insect products
Managing forests responsibly
It is in the interest of the world's timber trade (not to mention the environment!) that forests are managed responsibly, and trade in forest products supports more responsible and sustainable forest management. Regulation of the trade in threatened species and forest certification are two ways to promote better forest management.
Forest certification is a two-stage process. First, forests are independently certified to a recognised standard, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Next is the certification of operations in the timber supply chain, referred to as the 'chain of custody' certification.
Often, it is a simple equation. If the annual cut in a forest exceeds the annual growth, it spells trouble. However, good management policies and practices, tested against the best international standards, coupled with a chain of custody to the user, wise design and minimum waste can be combined to safeguard the resource for the future.