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Up to 20% of humanity directly dependent on forests

Village kids in New Guinea
Village kids in New Guinea

Despite a global trend towards urbanization some 1.2-1.7 billion people worldwide remain primarily dependent on forests for their livelihoods, reports a review [PDF] published by the Forest Peoples Programme. The figures exclude people who are indirectly dependent on forests for the services they provide, including climate regulation, provision of clean water, and carbon sequestration.

The data, which comes from an array of sources, indicates that the vast majority of people dependent on forests are small-holders, who rely on subsistence agriculture or agroforestry. Only a handful of forest people remain truly nomadic.

The report notes that 200 million of the world’s “forest people” are considered “indigenous”. Estimates of indigenous people worldwide range from 454-560 million.

The report also breaks down populations by region, country, and forest type. For example more than 800 million forest-dependent people live in tropical rainforests, while 60 million live in boreal forests. China (105 m), India (84 m), Indonesia (70 m), and Pakistan (42 m) have the largest numbers of forest-dependent people.

The report counts up to 20 million people who are employed formally in the forestry sector worldwide. Anywhere from 47-140 million may work in formal and informal forest-based enterprises.

Shaman in Brazil

While cautious about the accuracy of the estimates in the report, the Forest Peoples Programme says quantifying the number of forest dependent-people does serve a purpose.

“This report seeks to raise awareness of the existence of peoples who primarily depend on forests for their livelihoods, and to enhance their visibility as key actors and rights-holders in the management and use of forests and forest resources,” states the Forest Peoples Programme. “These figures may serve as a useful reference in advocacy for the recognition of forest peoples’ legal and human rights.”

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