Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet

  • United Nations SG
    António Guterres Secretary-General of United Nations
  • QU Dongyu
    QU Dongyu Director-General of FAO
  • Ivonne Higuero
    Ivonne Higuero Secretary-General of CITES
Tweets by World Wildlife Day

The planet’s forests are home to some 80 per cent of all terrestrial wild species. They help regulate the climate and support the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

Some 90 per cent of the world’s poorest people are dependent in some way on forest resources. This is particularly true for indigenous communities that live in or near forests.

Some 28 per cent of the world’s land is managed by indigenous communities, including some of the most intact forests on the planet. They provide livelihoods and cultural identity.

The unsustainable exploitation of forests harms these communities and contributes to biodiversity loss and climate disruption.

Every year, we lose 4.7 million hectares of forests – an area larger than Denmark.

Unsustainable agriculture is a major cause. So is global timber trafficking, which accounts for up to 90 per cent of tropical deforestation in some countries. It also attracts the world’s biggest organized crime groups.

The illegal trade in wild animal species is another threat, increasing the risks of zoonotic diseases, such as Ebola and COVID-19.

So, on this year’s World Wildlife Day, I urge governments, businesses and people everywhere to scale up efforts to conserve forests and forest species, and to support and listen to the voices of forest communities.

In so doing, we will contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for people, planet and prosperity.

Forests are one of the principal sources of life on our planet. They are home to nearly four fifths of all terrestrial species of wild fauna and flora. They are also home to several hundred million people, including countless members of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

Globally, up to 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas, relying on forests and their species to cover their basic needs, form food, to shelter, fuel and medicines. These groups have long lived in good harmony with their environments, which in turn have become a central part of their social and cultural identities.

These communities also have centuries of experience living from the near limitless ecosystem services provided by forests. They have historically acted as the principal custodians of their lands: just under a third of the world’s surface is managed by Indigenous Peoples, encompassing some of the most well-conserved forests on the planet.

Forest and forest wildlife also provide for the incomes and well-being of countless people that do not necessarily live near them. Worldwide, some 80 million jobs, both in the formal and informal sectors, are directly sustained by forest resources. Moreover, as many as 2.4 billion people use wood-based energy for cooking, both in rural and urban settings and in developed and developing countries.

Forests have long provided a safety net for some of the most vulnerable groups around the world.

Yet, these essential ecosystems and wild species are the very center of the most urgent challenges we face today, as are the communities they help sustain. As the combined effects of climate change, biodiversity loss and the social and economic consequences of the current global health crisis all continue to disrupt lives and ecosystems everywhere, they are a particular threat to the people and communities whose livelihoods and well-being are most closely tied to natural systems like forests.

Growing land conversion, rapid urbanization and other forms of encroachment on forested areas are leading to forest loss, degradation and fragmentation. This threatens to upend the lives of Indigenous Peoples and local communities who depend on forests for their incomes and basic needs, exposing them to growing risks of poverty and instability.

As we seek to repare our relationship with nature, forests, forest species and forest communities must be among our highest priorities. That is why, this year’s World Wildlife Day seeks to celebrate the livelihoods and experiences of those who have built strong models for sustainable interactions with forests.

Under the theme of “Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet”, we wish to highlight the immense social and economic value of forests for communities in all corners of the world, particularly for Indigenous and local communities.

We also wish amplify the voices of representatives of these groups, so that their experiences and the novel paths they have taken in their march towards sustainability can inspire all global efforts to conserve forests and the species they harbor, without neglecting the needs of those who rely on them for their livelihoods.

We wish a happy World Wildlife Day to all!

Distinguished Participants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year’s World Wildlife Day highlights the immense value of forests and forest-dwelling wildlife to the livelihoods of the communities based there, and to the well-being of people living much further away. Perhaps never before has it been so important to remember that in order to sustain people and the planet – the theme for this year’s event – forests must be managed sustainably.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of forests to biodiversity, or the extent to which humans depend on both for a wide range of valuable ecosystem services. Forests are home to the majority of life on land – both animal and plant species.

At least 1 billion people rely directly on forests for food in the form of edible plants, mushrooms, insects, fish and wildmeat, and many more depend on them for water, medicine, energy, shelter and income. Given the intricate relationship between humans and forests, the repercussions of upsetting this fine balance are grave indeed.

The past 12 months were a wake-up call to the dangers of stepping out of kilter with nature, as we know that more than 70% of emerging infectious diseases, and almost all recent pandemics, have originated in livestock and wildlife.

Forests have traditionally served as a natural barrier to disease transmission between animals and humans, but as we increasingly encroach on wildlife habitats to pursue expansion of agriculture, settlements and infrastructure, the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to people rises exponentially.

The growing demand for wildmeat, especially in urban settings, is increasing humans’ exposure to zoonotic diseases and hunting pressure in forests. Wildmeat is an essential source of food for millions of indigenous and rural people, accounting for more than 50 percent of protein intake in many tropical and subtropical regions.

But unless hunting and consumption are conducted in a sustainable manner, that supply will gradually diminish, with serious implications for food security. Already, recent studies estimate that 285 mammal species are threatened with extinction due to hunting for wildmeat.

At FAO, we know that efficient food production must co-exist with biodiversity conservation if there is to be any real hope of ending poverty and hunger. To achieve those objectives, we advocate for more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems that feed humanity.

FAO encourages a transition from unsustainable to sustainable levels of hunting and fishing for wildmeat through new and inclusive policies, practices and income-generating opportunities that make the most of both traditional knowledge and the latest technologies.

As part of this innovative approach, we are working with international partners through the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme to address the food and nutritional security, forest livelihoods and health challenges that affect us all.  We work in 15 of our Members with funding from European Union (EU), the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the French Development Agency.

For example, in Madagascar, the Programme is addressing the twin goals of eradicating hunger and conserving unique fauna by supporting women and youth in the sustainable production of poultry, and developing innovative techniques to farm endemic fish species, as alternative food supplies to wildlife.

In Guyana, where road-building and expanding village populations increase pressures on wildlife, the Programme contributes to restoring hunting and fishing to sustainable levels, maintaining traditional knowledge on wildlife through education, and supporting the local private sector in diversifying sources of safe and nutritious food for rural communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the close links between human, animal and environmental health. This approach is the cornerstone of the multidisciplinary One Health approach, to which FAO is strongly committed.

Forests sustain life – human life and wildlife. It is our firm conviction that innovative, science-based, green solutions are the pathway to preventing zoonotic diseases, and to ensuring a sustainable supply of food as well as livelihoods to forest communities and beyond.

Together, for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, leaving no one behind.



On 20 December 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 3 March – the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1973 – as UN World Wildlife Day to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. The UNGA resolution also designated the CITES Secretariat as the facilitator for the global observance of this special day for wildlife on the UN calendar. World Wildlife Day has now become the most important global annual event dedicated to wildlife.

World Wildlife Day will be celebrated in 2021 under the theme "Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet", as a way to highlight the central role of forests, forest species and ecosystems services in sustaining the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people globally, and particularly of Indigenous and local communities with historic ties to forested and forest-adjacent areas. This aligns with UN Sustainable Development Goals 1, 12, 13 and 15, and their wide-ranging commitments to alleviating poverty, ensuring sustainable use of resources, and on conserving life land.

Between 200 and 350 million people live within or adjacent to forested areas around the world, relying on the various ecosystem services provided by forest and forest species for their livelihoods and to cover their most basic needs, including food, shelter, energy and medicines.

Indigenous peoples and local communities are at the forefront of the symbiotic relationship between humans and forest, forest-dwelling wildlife species and the ecosystem services the provide. Roughly 28% of the world’s land surface is currently managed by indigenous peoples, including some of the most ecologically intact forests on the planet. These spaces are not only central to their economic and personal well-being, but also to their cultural identities.

Forests, forests species and the livelihoods that depend on them currently find themselves at the crossroads of the multiple planetary crises we currently face, from climate change, to biodiversity loss and the health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 3 2021, World Wildlife Day will celebrate forest-based livelihoods and seek to promote forest and forest wildlife management models and practices that accommodate both human well-being and the long-term conservation of forests, forest-dwelling species of wild fauna and flora and the ecosystems they sustain, and promote the value of traditional practices and knowledge that contribute to establishing a more sustainable relationship with these crucial natural systems.



World Wildlife Day 2021 Virtual Global Event: The 2021 celebration was entirely virtual, bringing together representatives of UN member States, UN System organizations and multilateral environmental agreements, civil society, and the private sector for a series of discussions along the theme of "Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet".

The agenda for the 2021 virtual event can be found here.

Find Youtube videos of the full event and the different sections below: 


View other events from around the globe.