Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Forestry: FAO Report – Explained, pointwise

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Forests are host to most of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity.  Tropical rainforests alone account for 50% of the terrestrial species. The conservation of the world’s biodiversity is therefore crucially dependent on the way the forests are utilized. The role of forests in maintaining biodiversity is explicitly recognized by the United Nations Strategic Plan for Forests 2017– 2030. It is also the focus of the ongoing discussions around the forthcoming post-2020 global biodiversity framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In December 2019, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) adopted the Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across Agricultural Sectors. Protected areas play a central role in biodiversity conservation covering 18% of the world’s forests. Often, protected areas are established in remote and inaccessible places, leaving critical habitats in more accessible areas vulnerable to pressures from competing land uses. Weak governance and law enforcement undermine biodiversity conservation even in protected areas. For these reasons, mainstreaming biodiversity in production forests is of paramount importance to stem biodiversity loss. The FAO, in partnership with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), has conducted a review of Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Forestry and has shared good practices on solutions that balance conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity.

Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Policies/Programmes

Forest biodiversity continues to be lost at an alarming rate, primarily due to deforestation. Approximately 10 million ha of forest are cleared for other land uses every year (mostly driven by agricultural conversion). Forest biodiversity is being eroded over enormous areas through forest degradation, due to over-harvesting of timber species, other valuable plants and wildlife, as well as from invasive species, fires, pests and diseases. Biodiversity loss compromises the ecological functioning and stability of forests. It undermines the provision of ecosystem services to humanity. Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) can help stem biodiversity losses and secure sustainable benefits.

According to the FAO Report, Mainstreaming biodiversity is “the process of embedding biodiversity considerations into policies, strategies and practices of key public and private actors to promote conservation and sustainable use of natural resources”. It involves prioritizing forest policies, plans, programmes, projects and investments that have a positive impact on biodiversity at the ecosystem, species and genetic levels. It is about integrating biodiversity concerns into everyday forest management practice.

National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) are an important tool for mainstreaming biodiversity and form the basis for developing specific sectoral policies to support the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

The Paris Agreement noted the importance of biodiversity and called for encouraging synergies between climate action and biodiversity protection. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) also offer an opportunity to mainstream biodiversity in climate policies, as Forests are critical for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Approaches to Mainstreaming Biodiversity

Mainstreaming biodiversity requires both regulation and steering. There is a wide variety of approaches and instruments for mainstreaming biodiversity in forestry.

Spatial Planning-based Approaches

There are trade-offs in different land uses (forest, agricultural, industrial etc.) and outcomes. Multiple objectives can be met through a well-considered spatial plan. Large-scale spatial planning should consider the effects of other sectors, especially agriculture and infrastructure, on forest biodiversity. Approaches like designation of multiple-use protected areas, protecting threatened habitats, and increasing forest cover through restoration and forest plantation establishment can be adopted.

Species-based Approaches

Species management, with active partnerships with NGOs, enables Governments to harmonize efforts across sectors to manage species that interact strongly with human activities: (a) Species threatened by human activities; (b) Migratory species; (c) Species causing human–wildlife conflict; (d) Invasive species; (e) Overabundant native species; (f) Harvested species.

Regulatory Instruments

Forest regulations ensure that forest management contributes to successful implementation of National Biodiversity Management Strategies. Regulatory instruments include quotas/permits/licenses designed to regulate the exploitation of forest resources and legal provisions for environmental governance, including environmental impact assessments. They help enforce species management requirements, ensure incorporation of biodiversity considerations in spatial planning, and establish a mechanism for participatory forest management.  Regulatory approaches work well when the process is transparent, and well-monitored.

Economic Instruments

Economic instruments like taxes, subsidies and grants, can be used to incentivize forest owners and managers to advance SFM and improve biodiversity outcomes. Governments should check subsidies on agriculture inputs or forest conversion. Biodiversity offsetting can provide cash for extending and strengthening protected area management and funding forest restoration.

Biodiversity Offsets

Biodiversity offsets are actions designed to compensate for biodiversity loss from development projects. They are based on the premise that impacts from development can be compensated for if sufficient habitat can be protected, enhanced or established elsewhere.

Market-based Instruments

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes generate income that can support SFM and biodiversity conservation. High transaction costs, limited resources and insecure land tenure are the main barriers impeding participation in PES schemes. REDD+ and other carbon-based PES schemes offer tremendous potential for supporting SFM and biodiversity conservation.

Forest Certification has become an important tool for promoting and ensuring SFM. However, it has made negligible progress in tropical low-income countries. Governments can encourage certification by providing incentives (e.g. reduced license fees) and through purchasing policies that require the use of certified timber.

Participatory Forest Management

Recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, ensuring their participation and integrating their traditional knowledge in forest management is critical to achieve SFM. Equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity is one of the central pillars of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Community-based Forest Management can fulfil above objectives. It benefits biodiversity conservation by reducing illegal activities and empowering the community to defend their forests against external threats. Lands traditionally owned, and managed by Indigenous Peoples perform better in resisting deforestation compared to unprotected, or sometimes even protected, areas.

Challenges associated with community-based forest management include potential conflicts among neighbouring communities, the requirements of business acumen and social capital to operate viable community-based forest enterprises, and the need for quality monitoring.

Knowledge and Capacity Development

High quality biodiversity management requires knowledge and capacity among a wide range of actors (Government agencies, local communities, civil society organizations, forest owners etc.). Governments can support research and training on biodiversity and forest management, provision of information on biodiversity, and the production of guidelines and standards.

Barriers to Mainstreaming Biodiversity

Deforestation: Deforestation continues at an alarming rate of 10 million ha per year especially in lower income tropical countries, primarily driven by agricultural expansion.

Illegal Forest Activities and Corruption: Illegal timber harvesting is estimated to account for 15–30% of global timber production and 50–90% of forest harvesting in many tropical countries. These activities directly impact forest biodiversity through forest degradation and undermine efforts towards SFM.

Poor Conservation outside Protected Areas: Biodiversity conservation often receives little attention outside protected areas. It is critical to stem biodiversity losses given the limited and uneven coverage of protected areas.

Insufficient Capacity, Financing and Regulatory Oversight: Many developing countries struggle to enforce forest and biodiversity regulations because of insufficient capacity and resources. Monitoring biodiversity management requires financial investment which is often inadequate.

Lack of Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Participation: The interests of local communities are often not given sufficient consideration in national forest policy and forest management plans. This undermines social justice objectives, prevents equitable sharing of the benefits derived from biodiversity, and increases the threats to biodiversity.

Integrating Biodiversity in Forest Management

The quality of forest management has a critical role in determining the value of production forests for a range of values, including biodiversity. In forest plantations (particularly those under monoculture short-rotation management), the success of biodiversity integration depends mostly on the appropriate identification and protection of vulnerable habitats. Biodiversity conservation in production forest can be enhanced through the multiple measures:

Managing risks of forest operations to biodiversity: All forest operations affect biodiversity. Forest Managers should undertake biodiversity risks assessments, and implement measures to mitigate identified risks. The High Conservation Value (HCV) approach helps identify and manage the ecological, environmental, and social impacts of forest operations.

Establishing and managing set-aside areas: Biodiversity outcomes in production forests can be improved by delineating and preserving judiciously located set-aside areas to protect old-growth forest and vulnerable habitats, and maintain habitat connectivity. 15% of area can be set-aside within a managed forest.

Protecting critical biodiversity resources: The impacts of forest management on biodiversity can be mitigated by protecting key biodiversity resources within production forests, such as rare plants, nest sites, large trees, fruit trees and seed sources for the maintenance of tree genetic diversity.

Sustainable management of timber resources: Timber harvesting is a major threat affecting a huge number of tree species. Lower harvesting volume combined with a longer rotation period would result in protection of biodiversity.

Regulating non-wood forest product (NWFP) harvest: Harvesting of NWFPs, including plant resources and animals, has substantial impact on biodiversity. Appropriate regulation of NWFP harvest and sustainable management of these species are required to ensure their sustainability.

Sustainable management of forest genetic resources: Conservation of genetic diversity is an overlooked aspect of forest biodiversity conservation. Intraspecific diversity is essential for climate change resilience. Steps that can be taken to maintain and enhance genetic diversity of tree resources include: (a) Establishing set-aside areas; (b) Reducing damage to residual stands during forest operations; (c) Maintaining forest connectivity; (d) Integrating genetic diversity considerations in tree planting.

Managing and controlling invasive species: Invasive species may arrest natural regeneration, dominate open habitats and increase fire risks. Forest managers should implement an invasive species management plan, including the monitoring and eradication of invasive species and controlling already-established invasive species that pose a threat to the forest ecosystem.

Protecting forests from illegal and unauthorized activities: Production forests are often susceptible to encroachment and unsustainable harvesting of NWFPs. Forest managers should put in place forest enforcement teams to monitor and prevent illegal activities. Cooperation with local communities, including co-management of NWFP resources, is essential to building a social fence for forest protection.

Pressure State Response Framework Mainstreaming Biodiversity UPSC

Source: FAO


There are a number of measures and actions that Governments and development partners can take to facilitate Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Forestry.

Reversing Deforestation: Deforestation must be stopped and reversed. Sustainable agricultural intensification, restricting future agricultural development to deforested regions, and increasing deforestation fines are needed.

Combating illegal and unregulated forest activities: They happen due to complex laws and regulations. Countries should streamline rules and regulations, focus on their effective implementation, and define institutional duties among key ministries and agencies. Investments are required for implementation and capacity development in law enforcement.

Recognizing forest tenure of Indigenous Peoples and local communities: Devolving forest management authority through participatory forestry is an effective strategy in combating illegal forest activities, especially where local communities act as the forest managers.

Preventing conversion of natural forests into monospecific forest plantations: Forest policies and regulations should be updated to limit forest plantation development to degraded lands that have limited biodiversity value. It will ensure that increasing timber production through plantations does not come at a cost to biodiversity.

Ensuring sustainable management of harvested species: Over-harvesting of plants and wildlife is a serious issue. Hunting by Indigenous Peoples and local communities should be managed through a transparent, negotiated process. Highly sought-after wild plants should be identified, and management plans should be put in place. In production forests, commercial species should be sustainably managed to ensure maintenance of genetic diversity.

Managing invasive and overabundant species: Invasive species should be managed through nationally coordinated programmes. Information regarding invasive species should be made readily available, standard best practices developed, and forest management plans should include measures to monitor and control invasive species.

Adopting a multi-sectoral perspective: As biodiversity is impacted by changes occurring outside of forests, it is important that biodiversity is mainstreamed across other land use sectors. Inclusion of the forest sector in national development strategies, and biodiversity mainstreaming within forestry, are of critical importance.

Providing economic incentives: Governments can provide incentives to promote high-quality forest biodiversity management. These incentives include tax breaks for compliance; renewing licenses based on performance (and revoking them in cases of non-compliance); subsidies and investments for achieving biodiversity outcomes; compensation for reduced production to promote biodiversity benefits etc.

Facilitating market-based instruments: Governments can facilitate biodiversity mainstreaming in forestry by steering practices through various market-based approaches. These include measures like facilitating PES schemes through government policy, supporting sustainable value chain development through green purchasing policies that reduce the environmental footprint of agricultural and forest products etc.

Supporting knowledge and capacity development: Governments should support research and training in forest management and biodiversity conservation at higher institutes of learning. National biodiversity databases, and digital tools for incorporating local knowledge should be developed. These technologies should be leveraged to improve forest law enforcement as well.


At the COP26 (UNFCCC) in Glasgow, nations pledged to to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030. The Abidjan Call adopted at the 15th COP of the UNCCD reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to combat desertification and halt biodiversity loss. Mainstreaming biodiversity in forestry will prove to be vital in achieving these commitments.

Syllabus: GS III, Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation

Source: Down to Earth, FAO

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