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Five key messages from trees on their importance for a better world

If trees could talk...

It’s a beautiful day. You take a step outside. You hear the rustling of the leaves and feel the slight brush of wind across your skin. You are surrounded by nature and the trees are making their presence known.  

They stand tall, unassuming and often go unnoticed in the background. But they are there. More than just a pretty backdrop, trees and forests play a crucial role to human’s everyday existence.

And it’s not just trees working alone. Deep within the forests is an intricate ecosystem of plants, fungi, insects and animals that interact and perform roles that are critical to everyone’s lives. They all work silently behind the scenes to ensure that living beings have fresh water to drink, air to breathe and food to eat.

Forests cover about 31 percent of the global land area, but more than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries. They hold a significant amount of planetary biodiversity since they are home to about 80 percent of terrestrial plants and animals.

They are the silent but vital partner in providing livelihoods and food security for millions. Trees take care of people every day so take a minute to ponder, if trees had a voice, what would they say…

Whether wood for housing, beauty products, medicines or aromatics, forests provide people with products and livelihood opportunities.
 In addition, forests store carbon, helping to reduce global emissions and mitigating climate change effects.

1.      “We provide nutritional foods.”  

Forest products such as fruit, nuts, insects and wild meat supply essential energy, protein, carbohydrates and vitamins and are a critical part of diets, particularly for rural, food-insecure populations.  

For some communities in the Congo and Amazon Basins, the consumption of wild meat alone covers between 60 - 80 percent of daily protein needs.

Globally, nearly one billion people depend on harvesting wild food such as herbs, fruits, nuts, meat and insects for their diets.

2.      “We offer livelihoods.”

About 33 million people (one percent of global employment) are estimated to work directly in the formal and informal forest sector. In addition, approximately 3.5 billion–5.76 billion people use non-timber forest products for personal use or to support livelihoods. Whether wood for housing and furniture, beauty products, medicines or aromatics, trees provide.

As nature’s pharmacy, forests also offer medicines to treat a wide array of ailments. Around 50 000 plant species – many of which grow in forests – have medicinal value. Many common pharmaceutical medicines originate from forest plants, including cancer-treating drugs derived from the Madagascar periwinkle and the malaria medication, quinine, from cinchona trees.

3.      “We combat climate change.”

Forests offer protection. Trees can alleviate climate change effects and reduce global carbon emissions.

Forests are able to mitigate heat and extreme weather events. They contain 662 billion tonnes of carbon, keeping it locked away from the atmosphere. However, deforestation, forest degradation and land-use change are responsible for about 11 percent of global CO2 emissions each year. Halting deforestation and increasing forest cover can be a cost-effective way to help combat climate change.

Furthermore, in cities, properly placing trees around buildings can cool the surrounding air and cut air conditioning needs by up to 30 percent, also saving energy.

4.      “We deliver energy and shelter.”

Trees provide people with a vital energy source to cook food and stay warm. Often an overlooked aspect of food security, woodfuel is vital to about 2.4 billion people who use this resource for cooking in addition to heating.

Forests also provide shelter and housing for people around the world. Wood from sustainably managed forests is a renewable material that contributes to a resilient planet, stores carbon for its lifetime and presents a viable alternative to other materials that take a heavy toll on the environment. Wood is the largest source of renewable energy, ahead of solar, hydroelectric and wind power.

5.       “We can boost mental and physical well-being.”

Trees can be therapy. Spending time in green spaces increases positive emotions and decreases stress, depression and anxiety. To improve mental health, spend time around trees.

They can also be a source of physical recreation. Studies have shown that the obesity rate of children living in areas with access to green spaces is lower than those with limited or no access.

Trees in the cities also absorb pollutant gasses from traffic and filter the surrounding dust, dirt and smoke, shielding people from respiratory diseases.

In short, forests are working every minute to provide for the world. From offering foods and products to taking care of people’s mental and physical well-being, they are always there for us. So, we need to make sure we are there for them too.

Because if trees could talk, they would remind us: “Just as you depend on us, we depend on you.”

Source: FAO

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