Forest sector employs 33 million around the world, according to new global estimates

Quantifying how many people are employed in the forest sector is not a straightforward exercise. Nonetheless, the ILO, FAO and the Thünen-Institute of Forestry joined forces to estimate the global workforce in forest-related activities and provide insights on labour market trends in this sector.
© J. Koelen / FAO
© J. Koelen / FAO
Forests and the forest sector are an important source of employment, livelihoods and incomes for millions, especially in rural areas. Forests currently cover 31 per cent of the global land area, although they are not equally distributed around the globe. More than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China) and two-thirds (66 per cent) of forests are found in ten countries.
These 10 countries employed an estimated annual average of 18.6 million workers in forest-related activities between 2017 and 2019. Worldwide, the forest sector employed an estimated 33 million persons, or 1 per cent of global employment. Although Asia accounted for just 15 per cent of the world’s forest areas, almost two-thirds of global forest sector workers were in this region. The forest sector includes agricultural activities, namely forestry and logging, but most activities are in manufacturing. More than half of the sector’s employment (58 per cent) is in the manufacture of wood and products of wood, with another 18 per cent in pulp and paper manufacture. 

Declining employment

The current global employment figure represents an overall decline of 15 per cent when compared to the 39.5 million persons employed in forest-related activities between 2011 and 2013. This change is most visible in the Americas and Asia. Meanwhile, the number of forest workers increased in Africa and remained essentially unchanged in Europe and Oceania. The overall decline is partly explained by the increased levels of mechanization and consequent labour productivity gains.  

A male-dominated sector

Women are significantly under-represented in the forest sector. They comprised less than a quarter of total employment in forest-related activities between 2017 and 2019, according to estimates using data from 69 countries. This figure may be explained in part by the nature of forest sector work. Tasks in logging and wood-based industries typically require intensive physical labour, which can hinder female participation. Rather, female workers tend to perform less physical tasks, such as silvicultural work and administrative duties. Women also engage in gathering non-wood forest products or producing charcoal, which often are viewed as household chores or subsistence activities and thus do not get captured as employment in the statistics.

High rates of informality

Informal employment accounts for a significant proportion of forest-related employment, especially in lower income countries. Estimates based on 56 countries with available data show that 77 per cent of forest-related employment was informal between 2017 and 2019. In Africa and Asia, this estimate surpasses 80 per cent of the total forest-related employment, 10 percentage points above the informal employment rate in all economic activities.

Challenges in data collection

Work in the forest sector is characterized by high degrees of informality and seasonality and it is often reported as a secondary or tertiary job. This makes it more challenging to capture the full extent of the forest-related workforce, in addition to other methodological challenges caused by the data availability, units of measurement and country coverage. Enhancing the availability of reliable and comparable forest-related employment statistics on national and global scales is necessary for enabling more evidence-based policy advice and response strategies. It is a key dimension towards a sustainable and resilient future in the forest sector. The ILO and FAO have joined forces to collaborate on advancing these efforts for improving forest-related employment data. The collaboration is centered on the Collaborative Partnership on Forest (CPF) initiative to provide a harmonized methodological approach for the employment-related indicator of the Global Core Set of Forest-related Indicators. The work is also responding to the conclusions of the ILO sectoral meeting on promoting decent work and safety and health in forestry, on data collection and on strengthened partnerships.

Methodology

Employment in the forest sector is defined as the sum of employment in three sub-sectors using the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC) at the 2-digit level:

  • forestry and logging (ISIC rev. 4 or ISIC rev. 3 division 02)
  • manufacture of wood and products of wood (ISIC rev. 4 division 16 or ISIC rev. 3 division 20)
  • paper manufacture (ISIC rev. 4 division 17 or ISIC rev. 3 division 21)

Global figures are based on data from 185 countries, which together account for 99 per cent of the world’s forest areas. Missing values are imputed using the wave-based methodological approach to fill data gaps.

The data, methodology and analysis presented in this blog are part of the report “Contribution of the forest sector to total employment in national economies: Estimating the number of people employed in the forest sector” prepared by the Thünen-Institute of Forestry, using detailed data from the ILO harmonized microdata collection. It serves as a technical background paper to the FAO’s flagship report “The State of the World’s Forests 2022”.

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