Sustainable use of trees: win-wins for people and planet

Posted on by Sarah Pocock


Every day, we rely on a huge variety of services and products – from clean water to medicines to timber – that can only be provided by trees. On International Day of Forests, we’re celebrating our amazing trees and forests, and the bounty of goods they provide.

Around the world, different tree species are used in a multitude of different ways. Forests play a significant role in so many people’s lives – in fact it is estimated that more than half of the global population use non-timber forest products to support their well-being and livelihoods1, and timber is the world’s most valuable wildlife commodity2. Threatened trees play a meaningful part in this, with species such as the lansan tree, rosewoods and baobabs providing important cultural, timber and food products respectively.

Forests cover nearly one third of Earth’s land cover, however we have lost 420 million hectares of forest in the last three decades1 and deforestation continues today at an alarming rate. By recognising and increasing the value we place on forests and tree species, we can change the fate of forests, switching to a mode of sustainable use that can create win-wins for people and planet.

A lansan resin tapper sustainably collecting the tree's sap, which is burned as incense. Credit: Jenny Daltry/FFI.

A lansan resin tapper sustainably collecting the tree’s sap, which is burned as incense. Credit: Jenny Daltry/FFI.

We have taken a look at some GTC projects with a focus on sustainable use – either directly through the products these threatened trees provide, or indirectly by supporting critical ecosystem services. Read on to find out more.

Remarkable renala

The iconic Grandidier’s baobab, known locally as renala, is endemic to south-west Madagascar and is highly valued for not just one, but many reasons. Its bark is used for rope, roofing and medicinal products, the trees have an important cultural role, and the fruits provide highly nutritious food. These fruits, which are rich in vitamins and very nutritious, are not only recognised locally. Baobab fruit has been called a ‘superfood’ on the international market after it was approved for use in smoothies by the European Union in 2008. This international recognition could provide both opportunity and risk for the endangered and CITES-listed species. Our GTC partner, Malagasy NGO Madagasikara Voakajy, has been supporting communities to sustainably use baobab products from local forests, developing a sustainable harvest plan and market linkages to ensure a fair price is received. This can result in an increased local value placed on the species, providing an incentive for long-term baobab protection and conservation.

Grandidier's baobab fruit at the market. Credit: Madagasikara Voakajy

Grandidier’s baobab fruit at the market. Credit: Madagasikara Voakajy

Festive forestry

Around the world, many people enjoy celebrating the festive Christmas period by bringing trees into homes and decorating them. Imported conifers are often used, but an enterprising GTC project in Saint Lucia is promoting the use of the native, and critically endangered, Juniperus barbadensis var. barbadensis. Now restricted in the wild to the very tip of Petit Piton, the species – known locally as the pencil cedar – is being piloted as a sustainable Christmas tree for Saint Lucians to enjoy over the festive period and then plant out in their gardens, supporting the long-term recovery of the species. Local awareness campaigns are already driving demand for the species, and we can’t wait to see these trees lit up in celebration in years to come.

Many young potential Christmas trees, all native pencil cedars. Credit: Sophie Steele/FFI

Many young potential Christmas trees, all native pencil cedars. Credit: Sophie Steele/FFI

Water for life

Our GTC partners in Brazil, Jardim Botânico Araribá, are carrying out ecological restoration of 30 hectares of semi-deciduous Atlantic forest at the degraded farm site ‘Sítio Duas Cachoeiras’, by planting native threatened tree species such as Chloroleucon tortum (CR), Cedrela fissilis (VU), Caesalpinia echinata (EN) and Zeyheria tuberculosa (VU). The site has become a thriving forest, home to over 110 native trees species and 170 species of wild animals. In addition, restoring the degraded landscape has brought back the most precious of resources – water. Where there was previously only one spring, now there are four, providing high-quality drinking water to the closest town, Amparo. Our partners have managed to guarantee the perpetuity of the restored forest at this farm by creating a Private Natural Heritage Reserve (RPPN in Portuguese). According to Brazilian legislation, this area can no longer be deforested, even if it was sold to another owner. In 2021, RPPN Duas Cachoeiras received the title of Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve in recognition of their restoration practices and implementation of the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. Our partner’s legacy will be an example of Atlantic forest conservation for generations to come.

Water is back at ‘Sítio Duas Cachoeiras’. Credit: Noelia Alvarez de Román/BGCI

Water is back at ‘Sítio Duas Cachoeiras’. Credit: Noelia Alvarez de Román/BGCI

Sustainable use at home

These amazing examples of sustainable tree use and management may be inspiring you to adopt more sustainable habits at home. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Avoid contributing to illegal and unsustainable timber extraction by purchasing wood and paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Look for the FSC “tick tree” logo, which means you can buy these products with the confidence that you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests.
  • Ensure any investments you make (or made on your behalf) are sustainable. For example, shortlisted for a Responsible Investor award, SPOTT supports investors and buyers by creating transparent assessments of the environmental standards of timber companies and publishing the results.
  • Repair, restore or adapt an existing item, perhaps buying second hand or making something yourself.

Follow the conversation and get involved with this year’s International Day of Forests celebrations using the hashtag #IntlForestDay.





Written by Sarah Pocock

Sarah was the Programme Officer for Plant Conservation at Fauna & Flora International, where she supported FFI's teams and partners to conserve threatened plant species.

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