Reassessing the value of forests to human wellbeing

A-01: Forests and Human Wellbeing: Life Satisfaction and Behavioral Approaches

 

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Research shows that access to urban forests and parks reduces the incidence of stress-related illnesses.

Forests have been valued for timber supply and economic development for centuries.  In most developed and developing countries, timber makes a significant contribution to the national GDP. Profit from timber certainly adds to human wellbeing, but forests also provide other less tangible contributions to human wellbeing and life satisfaction.

The question then is, how can we capture the overall contribution of forests to human wellbeing?

To fully value the overall contributions of forests to human wellbeing, it’s necessary to reassess the current forest valuation system. Scientific findings and presentations from the ongoing IUFRO World Congress 2014 suggest that forests do indeed provide goods and services other than timber that are beneficial to human wellbeing in both urban and rural areas.

In this session, Matilda van den Bosch presented her findings on the contribution of urban forestry to human health in Sweden. She found that access to urban forests and parks increases people’s physical activity and reduces the risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases and sicknesses such as vascular disease and heart attack. She also found that performing physical activity in parks and urban forests was much more beneficial than performing physical activity in the gym. She also found that access to parks reduced stress and risks of stress-related illness and diseases such as depression and mental disorder.

Miki Toda from Japan also reported on health benefits of forests and medicinal plants to the overall wellbeing of rural and peri-urban households in Peru. She found that 80 percent of the households in her study area relied on medicinal plants for health care. In some other villages, 53 percent of respondents relied on the combination of medicinal plants and orthodox medicines (hospital) for health care.

Similarly Marcin jarzebski from the University of Tokyo in Japan reported on the contribution of forests to the socioeconomic development of rural households in the Philippines. In the same vein, Mangala de Zoysa from Sri Lanka reported on the contribution of participatory forest management practices to sustainable rural livelihood in Sri Lanka through increased household income, empowerment of rural households, development of social cohesion and inclusion, and skill development.

Without a doubt, forests contribute much more than timber and aesthetic beauty to overall human wellbeing. Although the interplay between forests and human wellbeing is certainly complex, there is evidence available to help us assess the values that contribute to this complexity.

Written by: Chidiebere Ofoegbu

 

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