©Benedicte Kurzen/NOOR for FAO

The state of the world's forests 2022


  • The involvement of smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples in the forest pathways is essential. Such actors own or manage at least 4.35 billion ha of forest and farmlands worldwide; according to one study, smallholders produce farm and forest products worth up to USD 869 billion to USD 1.29 trillion per year.
  • Local actors can be highly effective – and cost-effective – forest managers. For example, an estimated 91 percent of indigenous and community lands are in good or moderate ecological condition. Much of the change needed to scale up the forest pathways and support green recovery will need to happen locally and provide local actors with tangible benefits.
  • Customary forest rights are increasingly recognized in statutory laws, although progress has not been uniform. Robust forest rights and the sound implementation of community-based forestry can help achieve green recovery, and statutory rights to high-value resources such as trees for smallholders can encourage green value chains.
  • Local producer organizations and other relevant groups can help enable the three forest pathways but require support. More than 8.5 million social cooperation groups exist worldwide; they provide platforms for cooperation and innovation, and their influence in forestry is growing.
  • Increasing capacity and co-producing knowledge with smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples would help scale up the three forest pathways. Identifying and capitalizing on diverse sources of knowledge and new technologies can facilitate innovative and inclusive solutions grounded in local systems.

5.1 Forest-based pathways need to be attractive to land users

Smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples own or manage at least 4.35 billion ha of forest and farm landscapes. Smallholders generate up to USD 1.29 trillion annually

According to a study by Lowder et al. (2021), there are more than 608 million farms worldwide, more than 90 percent of which are family farmsn (of all sizes) occupying 70–80 percent of farmland – these farms account for an estimated 80 percent of world food production. Farms less than 2 ha in size comprise 84 percent of all farms and operate on 11 percent of the world’s agricultural land; they produce an estimated 35 percent of world food production. About 80 percent of farms in low- and lower-middle-income countries (located primarily in East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) are less than 2 ha in size; they operate on 30–40 percent of land, a much larger share than in other regions.420

Another study concluded that, of the approximately 9 billion ha of land worldwide comprising forest and farm landscapes, an estimated 4.35 billion ha is controlled (owned or managed) by smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples.o,421 As huge as this area is, it is likely to be an underestimate (estimates vary widely depending on the methodology used). According to another estimate, smallholdersp generate a gross annual production value of USD 869 billion to USD 1.29 trillion per year.422 In many countries, 80–90 percent of forest enterprises are small or medium-sized, which generate more than half of forest-related employment.423,424 Thus, smallholders, local communities and Indigenous Peoples will be crucial in the uptake of the three forest pathways and hence a green recovery and moves towards sustainable economies.

There is strong evidence that deforestation is lower on Indigenous Peoples’ and local community lands, given the right incentives

Indigenous Peoples manage about 40 percent of all terrestrial protected areas and ecologically intact ecosystems worldwide.425 Deforestation rates tend to be lower on Indigenous People’s lands than in surrounding forests, including in protected areas, due to (among other reasons) cultural factors, traditional knowledge, strong governance, forest incentive policies, PES support, the low profitability of agriculture, and limited accessibility.426,427,428,429,430 Studies also show that ensuring indigenous and tribal land rights could be highly cost-effective for halting deforestation and slowing climate change.431,432,433,434,435 For example, it is estimated that securing indigenous lands in Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Brazil and Colombia would cost less than 1 percent of potential revenues from carbon storage alone.436

Ninety-one percent of Indigenous Peoples’ and local community lands have no, low (i.e. less than 10 percent modified by humans) or moderate (>10–40 percent modified) human modification or are in good or moderate ecological condition.437 A review of 24 countries found that indigenous and local communities customarily hold and use 958 million ha of land but have legally recognized rights to less than half this area.438 Their lands store at least 253.5 GtC and thus constitute globally significant carbon sinks and reservoirs; 52 percent of this stored carbon is on lands that are not legally recognized, however.472

The devolution of forests to local communities more broadly has not produced consistently positive results in reducing deforestation and advancing restoration,439 with success often depending on the extent to which legal frameworks are implemented, institutional capacity at the community level, the level of state support, and other factors, such as social capital.440,441,442 There is evidence that smallholders with secure tenure tend to make longer-term investments in their lands and forests (e.g. in improving forest governance, tree-planting and managing soil and water) compared with those with no or short-term tenure security.443 This may depend on the capacity to do so, however: a recent study in Indonesia, where a large programme of community titling is underway, found that such titling aimed at conservation did not decrease deforestation (and may have increased it) due largely to a lack of community-level institutional capacity and the economic opportunity costs of conservation. Community titling in timber production zones did decrease deforestation, however (from a higher base), which, according to the study’s authors, was indicative of increased efforts to restore forests for timber production.444

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