People need forests

A new Centre for Sustainable Forests and Landscapes at the School of Geosciences is set to promote and support ground-breaking studies into changing ecosystems around the world, including a major study of the impact of reduced woodlands on people in poverty in rural Mozambique. The Centre’s establishment underlines the University’s commitment to tackling some of the 21st century’s most pressing issues.

roadway through a forest in mozambique
A road cuts through woodland in northern Mozambique

Africa is a continent of awe-inspiring vistas and dramatically differing ecosystems – home to the world’s largest desert as well as vast swathes of lush rainforests. In central and southern Africa, woodlands are an integral part of the landscape, dominated by native miombo and mopane trees. These woodlands are made up of shrubland, savannahs and grasses and are home to a wide range of wildlife as well as a significant human population.

Ecosystem services – benefits that people can yield from the natural environment – from southern woodlands support an estimated 100 million rural people in Africa.

In recent years, miombo and mopane woodlands have undergone acosystems on the livelihoods of local peoples living in Mozambique.

Many people associate deforestation with forest loss from cutting down trees, but it is much more than that. Deforestation is a lasting change in land use, for example, from woodlands to agriculture or urbanisation.

Dr Genevieve Patenaude

International collaboration

While deforestation in itself is not necessarily negative and can provide vital economic support for local people, the speed and intensity of deforestation has stepped up in many ecoregions across the globe. In some places, this is in response to factors such as increasing populations, ineffective policies and increasing demand for meat and palm oil.

Genevieve Patenaude
Dr Patenaude is a Senior Lecturer in Forests and Carbon Management in the University’s School of Geosciences

Abrupt Changes in Ecosystem Services and Wellbeing in Mozambique Woodlands – or ACES – is examining how intensified woodland loss is affecting the lives of people living in rural poverty. The project – funded by the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme, supported by the Department for International Development, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council – involves an international collaboration of scientists from South America and Europe, as well as local practitioners and scientists in Mozambique.

High-impact policy

To build a comprehensive picture of the impact of deforestation, field teams collected biodiversity data and surveyed 1,700 households in more than 25 villages in Mozambique, garnering responses from local people about a wide range of issues including socioeconomic and household circumstances. A key focus of the project is the charcoal industry – an important ecosystem service across southern Africa that provides income for local providers with an annual market value of approximately £300m.

Scientists from the ACES team have shown that while smallholdings benefited the wellbeing of local people, intense production and a lack of community management can disadvantage poor communities, widening inequality. In some places, long-term charcoal commerce was found to have depleted the availability of wood suitable for future charcoal use as well as construction and firewood.

These findings have generated an abundance of academic data as well as high-impact policy recommendations to strengthen the role of community management and install practices to ensure the charcoal trade operates in an inclusive and sustainable way.

Wellbeing of local people

The new Centre for Sustainable Forests and Landscapes will support and extend the impact of vital projects such as ACES.

Directed by Professor Jaboury Ghazoul, the Centre is based at the School of Geosciences, rated top in the UK Research Excellence Framework for research power in geography, earth systems and environmental sciences. The Centre’s focus is addressing the global challenge of changes to forest ecosystems in ways that can support the economic and societal wellbeing of local people. As well as hosting world-leading research, the Centre will be a hub of learning, training the next generation of practitioners working at the coal-face of these changing ecosystems.

Humans and ecosystems

Dr Patenaude deforestation workshop in Mozambique
Dr Patenaude organised workshops for community groups in Mozambique affected by deforestation

Dr Patenaude believes that the Centre is an exciting place to strengthen and develop working networks and nourish collaborative projects. “Twenty-first century challenges can only be addressed using multiple lenses and team efforts across disciplines. Whether we are addressing pest and diseases – issues that are affected by trade and market forces as well as biology – or resilience of forests to climate change, teamwork across subjects will be key to making progress. The establishment of the Centre is a really positive opportunity to encourage interdisciplinarity.”

The Centre promises to deliver world-leading research into the complex relationship between humans and ecosystems with potential impact for rural communities across the globe. In the meantime, for us as consumers, making small tweaks to our habits could reduce the impact on intensive land changes. “To encourage sustainability, we might want to increase our recycling, limit our meat and dairy consumption and try to cut out processed foods heavy in palm oil”, says Dr Patenaude. Food for thought.

Related links

Centre for Sustainable Forests and Landscapes

The path to planetary health

Global challenges