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Forestry is a sector undergoing dynamic evolution in a rapidly-changing world. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, provided impetus and commitment to international activity focused on the world's forests. This has intensified over the past two years. Never before has there been so much attention paid to global forest issues in the popular press, such a large number of regional and international initiatives on various aspects of forest conservation and management, and so many demands on forests to address a multitude of needs and concerns of diverse interest groups. The context and the expectations facing forestry today are complex and challenging.

Under these circumstances, it is especially important that accurate, up-to-date information on the world's forests and on developments in the forestry sector is easily accessible. Such information will improve the formulation of informed opinion about forestry today and the understanding of factors which may affect forests tomorrow. In 1994, FAO committed to publish the State of the World's Forests (SOFO) report every two years as a means of providing just such an overview of the status of the world's forests. It is written for a wide audience, including people working in governmental and non-governmental organizations concerned with forestry policy and/or programmes, forestry enterprises and trade associations, research and educational institutions, and regional and international financial or development organizations.

SOFO endeavours to present information which is policy-relevant. Rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive and detailed account of all facets of forestry, it aims to present information on the status and trends of forests and forest products and services, new developments and emerging issues of significance for forests, and the external forces influencing forestry. SOFO draws upon the best information available, both that generated by FAO itself as well as by the many other organizations and individuals working in the sector.

The first edition of SOFO was published in 1995. This second edition is a somewhat expanded version, having three additional features. The first is the inclusion of information on past trends over the last 20-25 years and on future trends to the year 2010, thus allowing the reader to put today's situation into a longer time perspective. The second feature is a section giving information 'highlights' for all six regions of the world. This gives more geographically-specific information than the main sections, which focus at the global level. The third feature is the inclusion of a 'special issue' section, which in this edition of SOFO is on criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management. We welcome readers' views on this edition as well as on the direction of future editions.

In preparing SOFO, both the strengths and the weaknesses of the information base have become apparent. The need to fill the gaps in forestry knowledge presents FAO with a challenge and with opportunities for partnership with those who are doing related work. FAO invites others to join in this effort. We expect that through such initiative, information on the world's forests and its relevance to policies will continue to improve, a fact that will be reflected in future editions of SOFO. Most important, we hope that SOFO can make a significant contribution to international discussions on forests, to improved forest conservation and development, and to closer linkages with other sectors.

David A. Harcharik
Assistant Director-General
Forestry Department
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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