Forest management provide a wide range of economic and social benefits to humankind. These include contributions to the overall economy – for example through employment, processing and trade of forest products and energy – and investments in the forest sector. They also include the hosting and protection of sites and landscapes of high cultural, spiritual or recreational value. Maintaining and enhancing these functions is an integral part of sustainable forest management.
Countries around the world are branching out into forest conservation, finding that restoring deforested and degraded land yields high returns for investors, entrepreneurs and the environment. Businesses across the technology, consumer products, project management and commercial forestry sectors are making money from planting trees, with sales growing up to 10 times per year.
Besides serving the market, forest restoration improves water quality; produces sustainable timber, fuel and fiber; improves soil health; provides food and forest products; creates rural jobs; benefits biodiversity; improves air quality; helps mitigate climate change and creates recreational opportunities for communities. This is essential for sustaining the human population, not just biodiversity.
Meanwhile, population growth and expanding consumer demands are pressuring natural ecosystems. A study covering 24 developing countries found that, on average, forest products contribute 22% of total income (subsistence and cash) of rural forest households. Part of the forest income is sold for cash, which can be used to buy foods or inputs for agricultural production. Proximity to forest products (for example, firewood) can also affect the time women allocate to nutrition-related activities, such as food preparation or agricultural production.
The social functions of forests are often more difficult to measure and can vary considerably among countries, depending on their level of development and traditions. For example, in developed, post-industrial societies, the benefits of forests for recreation and amenity values or the maintenance of a rural way of life may be most important, while in developing countries, the area of forests available for subsistence activities or the number of people employed in the sector may be a better indication of their social value. Given the difficulties of measuring the social benefits of forests, social functions are often measured in terms of inputs rather than outputs (e.g. the area or proportion of forests used to provide various social functions).
Current forest recovery efforts in developing countries are different from previous efforts in developed countries, especially since the rise of economic globalization in the 1980s. Therefore, forest transition theory should now consider factors relating to industrialization, urbanization, and globalization. While previously the main focus was on the variable trade of primary sector products, currently a more holistic research perspective is applied more widely, mainly the links between trade, adjustment of trade structure, FDI, and forest transition. The total export value has a significant negative effect on forest area and volume, while the percentage of non-primary products has a significant positive impact on forest volume and density in the developing countries. These indicate that a country may improve the forest resource conditions by upgrading the export structure through the development of export-oriented manufacturing and service industries during the process of global industrial restructuring. This demonstrates the need to consider the overall global economic situation of a developing country when exploring the effects of economic globalization on forest transitions.