Message from QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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.