Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, made the remarks Monday at the opening of the agency's Committee on Forestry in Rome, a U.N. release reported.
"The success of FAO's work in improving lives will depend very much on how we balance the use and preservation of natural resources," he said.
"This includes forests, which play an important role in environmental factors like carbon sequestration, soil and water quality preservation and conserving biodiversity."
The committee, composed of heads of forest services and other senior government officials, will spend five days in Rome identifying emerging policy and technical issues, to seek solutions and to advise FAO and others on appropriate action, the United Nations said.
They will address issues such as rural development, the integration of forests with environmental and land use policies and improving the management of forestry resources, including wood and non-wood products.
Around 350 million of the world's poorest people, including 60 million indigenous people, depend on forests for their daily subsistence and long-term survival, da Silva said, but deforestation and forest degradation are contributing to significant losses of soil each year, putting the lives of many in peril.
"Preserving our soil is necessary to sustain life on the planet and yet the slow process of desertification has not captured as much attention as it merits," he said.
"We will need to work together with governments, civil society and the private sector to maximize the role that forests and wooded land will play in food security in the future."
"It will take a collective effort, including of all our partners within and beyond the U.N. system, to manage the world's forests in a sustainable way," da Silva said.