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Egon Glesinger - The role of forestry

Dr Egon Glesinger was Assistant Director-General in charge of the Department of Public Relations and Legal Affairs when he retired from FAO in 1969. Before that, he was Director of the Forestry and Forest Products Division, from 1959 to 1963. He was instrumental in banging forestry into FAO and was the founder of the Comité international du bois. Glesinger returned to forestry activities as a consultant for the United Nations Development Programme after leaving FAO. He died in 1979.

1. The role of forestry in world economic development

Excerpts from an address delivered in 1960 at the Fifth World Forestry Congress, where the multiple use of forest lands, the establishment of industrial plantations and the increased attention being given to demand were widely discussed. It was published that same year in Unasylva Vol. 14, No. 3.

· The benefits from forests are essentially twofold: on the one hand wood, and on the other various physical and social effects frequently termed "forest influences". In many instances the latter transcend in importance the significance of forests as producers of wood, indeed, over much of the earth's surface, forests and associated vegetation are the protecting covers which secure the maximum absorption of rainfall, regulate streamflow, and help prevent flooding and silting. Thus they improve the efficiency with which water resources are used for almost all of man's activities - irrigation, domestic water supplies, industry, hydroelectric works, to mention but a few. The quantity of water needed every day by modern cities and industry is enormous, yet it is seldom realized what a large part forests play in the complicated process of ensuring steady supplies.

Then, again, forests give protection against erosion, and shelter to agriculture in adjoining areas. They can act as barriers against landfalls and avalanches, they can furnish fodder and grazing for livestock and a habitat for wildlife, they provide places for public recreation, and surroundings for rest and the restoration of health - as well as contributing to the beauty of the landscape.

The trouble is that while almost everyone accepts in theory the indispensable role of the forest in all these connections, yet governments, economists and planners conveniently forget about it and assign to forest investment far lower priority than it deserves, because foresters have not yet succeeded in measuring the value of these "influences" in monetary terms. The studies made in connection with FAO's Mediterranean Development Project produced many striking illustrations of the catastrophic consequences which threaten a large number of countries as a result of inadequate provision of funds and priorities for the restoration and maintenance of a proper forest cover for protective purposes.

By recognizing the many purposes of the forest and acknowledging the multiple use concept, we do not mean that there should be equal division of forest lands among all possible uses or all uses on every hectare. What we do mean is that, in defending our forest resources against competing claims for land, we must weigh any one exclusive use against a possible combination of uses, with the idea of getting the optimum combination in a given management unit. The forest will not necessarily yield maximum production for any one of the uses selected, but the total benefits will probably be greater than could be obtained by exclusive use for one purpose.

We all know very well that there is scarcely a country in the world where one does not find substantial areas which should be covered by forests-areas which are at present either used for cultivation or grazing or have become denuded and unproductive. Moreover, with the growth of world population and the inevitable rise in living standards particularly of the underdeveloped countries, the areas needed to be reserved for tree cover or where productive forests have to be restored are bound to grow. It is one of the important responsibilities of foresters, economists and statesmen to see to it that the maintenance or establishment of forests in critical areas becomes accepted as an indispensable aspect of all national programmes for economic and social development. This process must go hand in hand with increased food production and be complementary to it.

"Brilliant, dynamic, effective..."

Egon Glesinger by Gunnar Myrdal

The late Gunnar Myrdal, distinguished Swedish economist and political scientist, was the first Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, established in 1947 with the aim of achieving the economic reconstruction of Europe. He was the author of severe/studies, among them Asian drama and The challenge of poverty. There was a strong bond of friendship between Myrdal and Glesinger which lasted for almost 50 years, until Glesinger's death in 1979. The article he wrote for Unasylva, "In memoriam" (Vol. 30, No. 122), is more than a tribute to a friend; it also tells of some events little known, or forgotten, which occurred in 1943 while FAO was first being planned.

Egon was a lifelong intimate friend and in some periods also a close collaborator.

We first met when, for the academic year 1930/31, I served as assistant professor at the Institut universitaire de hautes études internationales in Geneva. Egon was then completing his voluminous and valuable doctoral thesis on the European forestry industry, "Le bois en Europe". He participated in a seminar I led on the Great Depression, which had then spread to Europe and was worsening. I retain memories of his brilliant analytical conception of what was happening.

In 1931, our personal relations had become so close that Egon, finished with his doctoral studies, decided to come to Sweden, where he rapidly developed effective relations with the leading personalities in the forestry and pulp and paper industries. In Sweden he also found his life companion. Ruth.

Bringing together the interested parties, he succeeded in forming the Comité international du bois in the 1930s. I recall that he reckoned it a major accomplishment to have brought the Russians into cooperation within the new organization, instead of their becoming, as was feared at that time, disrupting outsiders. Their incorporation into the new organization was a major factor in the maintaining of the relative stability of trade and prices in Europe in the field of forestry and wood products in the period between the two world wars.

After the outbreak of World War II, Egon moved the headquarters from Vienna to Brussels and then to Geneva, but could not, of course, prevent its collapse. Egon and Ruth then finally came to the United States.

This was the time when preparations were going on for the creation of the worldwide organization that was to become FAO. Egon was working toward having forestry and wood industries included as a major field of activity of FAO. This met with much resistance from many quarters and was rejected by the formative FAO conference at Hot Springs, Virginia, in April 1943. After this meeting, an interim commission was established to create FAO's operating procedures. Lester B. Pearson, later Prime Minister of Canada, was the chairman of this commission. Egon gradually succeeded in getting Pearson, Frank L. McDougall, the influential Australian member of the commission, and others to reverse the Hot Springs decision and include forestry in FAO. He called on Clarence Forsling of the US Forest Service and together they formed an informal group of international foresters and forestry-minded persons, including Lyle Watts, Chief of the US Forestry Service, to support forestry in FAO. The US representative on the commission, Under-Secretary of Agriculture Paul H. Appleby, hesitated to go against the Hot Springs decision. He was prevailed upon to consult with Dean Acheson, then US Assistant Secretary of State, who replied, "By all means, forestry should be included." and finally with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who personally approved it, sending back Appleby's letter with a note scrawled on it: "Yes - I think forestry should be included. FDR." The result was that FAO got a Forestry and Forest Products Division. Its first Director was Marcel Leloup and Egon was his deputy. Later Egon succeeded Leloup as Director. His entire working life made him eminently qualified for his contributions to international forestry and FAO.

Egon was a dynamic person, and when I became Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in 1947, it was natural that I should turn to my old friend for advice and collaboration.

According to ECE's terms of reference, both agriculture and the forestry industries were, of course, under its responsibility, as well as that of FAO. Instead of following the unfortunate pattern of interagency rivalry and jealousy, which have become so prevalent among intergovernmental organizations, Egon and I made up our minds that ECE and FAO should work together. And we got the unreserved support of John Boyd Orr, the first Director-General of FAO, and also that of Lord Bruce of Melbourne, who was at that time an effective Chairman of FAO's Council.

Together we developed an organizational scheme, according to which the regional economic commissions -of which ECE was the first one - should serve as FAO's regional agency in Europe; ECE should establish committees for work on the problems in Europe, which would be serviced by FAO officials. Thus ECE had a Timber Committee and later an Agricultural Committee, both with subcommittees and working parties to the exent needed for their practical work, and they were subordinate to both organizations.

For FAO this had the special advantage that it got its work in Europe integrated into ECE's general work on the economy of Europe. Another advantage was that as the USSR was a member of ECE and gradually came to cooperate more actively in its committees, FAO could extend its work to include also that country, though the USSR refrained from joining FAO. For ECE this cooperation implied that we had all the expert knowledge that could be mobilized in FAO at our disposal when working on European economic problems.

As Executive Secretary of ECE, I, of course, came to rely on my old friend Egon much more generally. Besides his responsibilities in FAO he became an effective member of my group of directors and, indeed, of my Central Office, whenever he came to Geneva.

Throughout his life Egon focused on the great international problems that he began to deal with as a youth in Geneva. He was often controversial, and sometimes disliked, but always respected. He counted among his personal friends many leading international figures, including three heads of the United Nations: Trigve Lie, Dag Hammarskjöld and Kurt Waldheim. He remained active in international development work almost to the end, and one of the last letters he received was from Secretary-General Waldheim concerning his work as a consultant to help found an Indonesian pulp mill with the cooperation of UNDP.

At one time when he was just leaving his duties with FAO, we made a plan that we two, working together, would write a book on the deterioration of the various intergovernmental organizations within the UN family, which we had anxiously been watching from inside and from outside. That plan we were not able to fulfill, although I still have preserved outlines and sketches of manuscripts by Egon and myself.

To me personally the death of Egon Glesinger is a tremendous loss.

EGON GLESINGER Head of FAO Forestry Department, 1959-63

2. Projections in forest policy

After the period of post-war reconstruction, which lasted about 15 years, thinking at international gatherings converged toward shaping the future. This trend found its strongest expression in two organizations: the new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which decided that its members would try to achieve, by 1970, gross national products 50 percent higher than in 1960; and the United Nations, where the General Assembly decided, by unanimous vote in December 1960, that the next ten years (1961-70) would constitute a "Development Decade", meaning that all UN members would aim at a GNP increase of 5 percent a year.

Such decisions implied that, thereafter, adjusting production to needs would bring planning, statistics and projections much closer than before into every aspect of a country's economic life-including forestry. Glesinger commented on the significance of these two policies quite often. In 1963, Unasylva (Vol. 17, No. 2) carried a speech he made before the Italian Academy of Forestry Sciences in Florence. Here are some excerpts.

HOME CONSTRUCTION IN MOROCCO forest products help development

· One of the many striking aspects of these two solemn declarations is undoubtedly the fact that quantitative growth targets have now been accepted as basic elements of economic policy by the leading governments in the Western world. This constitutes an important innovation. While systematic planning has long been practiced in the USSR and the other socialist countries of Eastern Europe, it has been customary in Western Europe and North America to consider broad planning as not reconcilable with the principles of a free enterprise economy. This has now changed, since a corollary of the adoption of a growth target is the elaboration of some kind of plan to achieve the declared objectives. Moreover, it is clear that an overall figure for national income or gross national product is rather meaningless unless it is broken down into a substantial number of the elements of which either of these broad aggregates is composed, such as, for example, the output of key industries and of agriculture, the consumption of certain key commodities, the structure and size of foreign trade and of investments, etc.

It is here that an important distinction between the so-called "free economies" of Western Europe and the planned socialist economies needs to be made. The five-year plans prevalent in the latter countries attempt to spell out in detail how many houses should be built and where, how much steel should be produced in each factory, and how many new mills are to be built - and these plan figures eventually become compulsory objectives laid down by law. In Western Europe and North America no such detailed plans have been introduced. Instead, attempts are being made by governments and by industries to estimate consumption and production for 5, 10, or even 20 years ahead, in order to determine whether there will be a reasonable correspondence between supply and demand, and to plan appropriate steps to adjust production to prospective requirements.

These forward estimates are called projections. The term has been deliberately chosen, to make it clear that these figures are in no way prophecies. They are simply logical conclusions resulting from known past facts and explicitly stated assumptions regarding future developments.

This inevitably raises the question, why was this need for projections not felt before? In my opinion the growing emphasis on projections is due to three developments, all interrelated. First, the great improvement in statistical information and techniques which has occurred since the war. Secondly, the better appreciation of the relationship between the various magnitudes in the economy - the advance in social accounting. These two elements have evidently gone hand in hand. Improved statistics have deepened and made more precise our knowledge of how the economy works, and this knowledge has led to further improvements in the statistics available for analysis. And the third development, which to some extent underlies the other two, is that economists and statesmen have had to abandon their concern for stability and equilibrium and have become increasingly preoccupied with problems of growth.

Thirty years ago it would have been almost impossible to formulate general growth targets, since the majority of European countries did not even know the size of their national income or annual product. As for growth, it may be well to remember that Europe's industrial production (the only major item for which statistics are available) increased in the last pre-war decade by roughly 25 percent, but that the corresponding figure for the decade of the 1950s was around 85 percent. Most countries are hoping to do as well or better during the present decade of development, which one might one day come to regard also as the decade of targets and projections.

There is a certain conservatism among foresters whenever the allowable annual cut is being determined and a tendency toward systematic underestimates of growing stock and yield.

Turning now at last to forestry, I feel sure that nobody in this audience would dispute the fact that- irrespective of whether we like or dislike the approach-the general adoption of projections makes it imperative to do so for forestry as well, since it Constitutes a major sector of the European economy.


Taking a long historical perspective, forest utilization started everywhere as a mining operation, that is, the use of materials, which nature places readymade at the disposal of man.

This phase has been followed by systematic resource management, aimed at achieving a sustained yield of wood while at the same time protecting the growing stock. This was a necessary reaction to forest destruction, but the fact that it started as a move to protect the forest against destruction by man has left some clear traces, among which a certain conservatism among foresters whenever the allowable annual cut is being determined and a tendency toward systematic underestimates of growing stock and yield are the most significant in the present context. Moreover, even though economic factors are taken into account when management plans are being established, the main emphasis in establishing annual cut is being placed on physical and technical considerations.

With the introduction of projections into this process, the concept of forestry would move into a new, third phase. Long-term plans of forest output would need to be established, primarily with the objective of meeting local, national and international needs at reasonable cost. Sustained yield and resource protection would still remain the basis for the management of natural forests, but instead of planning output - as hitherto - in accordance with the capacity of existing forests, one would try to adjust production to effective demand. And since forests take a long time to grow, projections of future demand become a sine qua non in achieving a sound balance between timber supply and requirements.

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