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The world's forests and forestry sector are shaped as much by external economic, political, demographic and social trends as they are by forces working within the sector itself. Both the present and the future situation of forests must be considered within the wider context of development, which has, as its ultimate goal, the improved well-being of present and future generations.

Major trends during the period covered by SOFO 1997 (1995-1997) which have an effect upon forests include: continued population growth and urbanization; higher rates of global economic growth after the sluggish first three years of the decade; continued progress of many previously centrally-planned economies in their transition towards a market economy; and trade liberalization. Over the last two years, the structure and functions of public institutions, including forestry and related departments, have continued to undergo significant changes. Trends in decentralization, privatization of functions previously assigned to the public sector, and a movement towards a more pluralistic, or multi-partner, institutional environment have become more apparent. Reductions in budgets have affected forestry departments in developed and developing countries alike. Environmental concerns increasingly are influencing natural resource policies and practices and even, to some extent, international trade. Finally, the 'internationalization' of issues continues; attention at the highest policy-making levels has been drawn to the interactions between development and environmental and social issues through four international summits held within the last two years: the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, March 1995); the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, September 1995); Habitat II - the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Istanbul, June 1996); and the World Food Summit (Rome, November 1996). The importance accorded internationally to forestry is reflected in the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) in April 1995 by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development to encourage international consensus on key issues related to forests.

The effect of population and economic growth on demand for food and forest products is clearly illustrated by past consumption trends. Between 1960 and 1995, world population almost doubled in size and the world economy (as measured in GDP in real terms) increased three and a half times. Over the same period, world production of grains more than doubled, of fuelwood doubled and of paper more than tripled. Looking ahead, today's population of 5 716 million is expected to grow to 7 032 million by the year 2010. Nearly all of this increase will occur in the developing world, where constraints to agricultural and forestry production are particularly challenging and where national economic imperatives and disparities in income distribution are already putting intense pressure on natural resources. These factors will certainly affect the ability of countries to attain long-term food security and to maintain the productivity of their natural resource base, including forest resources.

The impact of population growth on forest cover and condition is clearly demonstrated by the information on recent changes in forest cover. Deforestation in tropical regions has continued over the period 1990-95. Recently released information on the causes of deforestation over the 1980-90 decade clearly shows rural population growth coupled with agricultural expansion (especially in Africa and Asia) and economic development programmes (in Latin America and Asia) as major causes of changes in forest cover. The demand for food to feed the world's increasing populations will continue to put pressure on forest lands. FAO estimates that the increase in world food production necessary to meet rising demand, mainly in developing countries, is likely to be in the region of 1.8 percent per year from now until the year 2010. In some countries, supplies will be increased by importing food or through intensifying production on existing agricultural land. For countries where neither option is feasible and where opportunities for land expansion exist (i.e., mainly sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America), food supplies will be increased by putting more land into agriculture. FAD has estimated that an additional 90 million hectares may be brought into agriculture in the developing countries by 2010, a large proportion of which is now in forests. The need for increased production and improved access to food in developing countries is also drawing greater attention to the ways in which forests and trees can contribute to household and national food security, in particular their role in protecting the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends.

The opposite scenario is taking place in some developed countries in situations of high agricultural production and the levelling off of demand; the release of marginal agricultural lands from production is providing new opportunities for afforestation.

The world economy, after its sharp decline between 1988 and 1991 and slow recovery between 1991 and 1993, has continued to expand over the last two years. It grew by 3.5 percent in 1995, with growth in developing countries at nearly 6 percent and in developed countries at about 2 percent, but with the countries in transition still showing a negative growth rate of 1 percent.1 Continued global economic growth is predicted for 1996 and 1997, with slight increases in developed and developing countries, and a positive turnaround in the countries in transition whose recovery is expected to be sustained. Economic growth has been most impressive in the emerging market economies of the developing world, in many cases through strong structural reforms and macroeconomic measures. Two features of the present economic situation are that the growth of economic activity has become more geographically widespread (a greater proportion of countries are showing increases in per caput GDP) and that this growth seems to have the potential to be sustained in many countries.2 Although accurate predictions of economic growth over the medium term are difficult to make, it seems likely that the current trend of proportionally higher economic growth in the developing world will continue.

1 International Monetary Fund (1996). World Economic Outlook. October 1996. IMF, Washington, D.C,

2 United Nations (1996), World Economic and Social Survey 1996 UN, New York.

Despite overall economic growth, poverty, hunger and malnutrition persist in parts of the world and among various sectors of the population due to uneven distribution of wealth and access to resources. Many of the world's poor live near forests and are dependent on forest lands and resources for their livelihoods. Forests do and will continue to play a particularly important role in providing products and income for these people. Competing demands for forests to continue to provide for local needs and to meet the increasing national demand for industrial forest products, which will be stimulated by rising overall income levels, may well intensify.

The combined impact of economic growth and increasing population size on demand for forest products is likely to be significant, particularly so since per capita consumption of industrial forest products is especially responsive to income change at low levels of income.

Increased demand for forest products is likely to reinforce current efforts in forest plantation development and, in some countries, may lead to increased production of industrial wood products from farm woodlots and agroforestry systems. The area of plantations in developing regions has doubled over the period from 1980 to 1995, and industrial wood production from farm forestry and from agroforestry systems is becoming increasingly important in several countries. This trend is likely to be encouraged by decreased levels of timber harvesting in natural forests due to environmental concerns.

The dissolution of the former USSR and subsequent efforts of newly independent countries to move from a centrally-planned to a market economy are having major impacts on forestry. First, there have been serious disruptions in forest management and production systems, and forest products processing and trade in these countries. Particularly significant are the changes in the Russian Federation, which accounts for more than one-fifth of the world's forests and is a major producer of industrial roundwood. The sharp decrease in industrial roundwood removals in the former USSR (recorded removals in 1994 were only about half of those in 1990) contributed to the decline in world industrial roundwood production of about 15 percent over the same period. Second, major reorganizations are taking place in the forestry sector of the countries in transition, including the privatization of forest operations and state-owned forest enterprises, the restitution of nationalized forest land to former owners or to their heirs, and the reorientation of forestry policies and institutions.

The impact of rapid infrastructure development and of urbanization on land use, land cover, and environmental conditions in urban and peri-urban areas is evident in many areas of the world, but especially in Africa and Asia where the rates of urbanization are highest. The effect of urbanization on overall demand for forest products and on rural land use, however, has not been the subject of detailed study, and is less well understood than the relationships between forest resources and population or economic growth; it is unclear whether the patterns evident in developed countries as they became urbanized will hold true for developing countries which are urbanizing at a much faster rate and with populations at much lower income levels. What is apparent, however, is that there is considerable scope for forestry to improve the environmental conditions and livelihoods of urban dwellers, and for peri-urban plantations to provide urban populations with wood products where demand is exceeding supply. While rapid urbanization is no longer an issue in most developed countries, increased awareness in recent years of the potential environmental and social benefits of forests and trees in urban areas has led to the development of strong urban forestry programmes in many countries, such as in the United States and in Europe.

Environmental awareness and public pressure have continued to have an impact upon all aspects of the forestry sector: on forest management, harvesting and post-harvest activities, markets and trade in forest products. Concern that forests be managed in such a way as to ensure that their productive functions, environmental services and social benefits are sustained over the long term has led to efforts to develop criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. There is a trend towards management of forests as ecological systems with multiple economic benefits and environmental values, and environmental protection and conservation of biological diversity are given increased weight in management objectives. More attention has been drawn to the potential environmental and social benefits which might result from the development of non-wood forest products. Reduced-impact logging systems are being advocated to minimize harmful effects of timber harvesting; advances have been made in forest industries leading to more environmentally-friendly processing of forest products; and there has been an increase in recovery and recycling of paper products. Restrictions have been placed on harvesting in national forests in North America and some tropical Asian and South Pacific countries. Some initiatives, such as certification schemes and the listing of timber species on appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, are being implemented in an attempt to link trade to environmental concerns related to forestry.

Both the socio-cultural benefits of forests and the social implications of the distribution of forest benefits continue to be issues of international attention and national action. The concern ranges from how to meet the needs and respect the rights of indigenous groups, forest-dwelling and forest-dependent people, which is mainly, but not exclusively, a developing country issue, to the more universal question of how to take into consideration the range of demands for forest goods and services by a wide variety of interest groups. These concerns have resulted in the further development and institutionalization of various participatory forest management systems, in the devolution of ownership of forest resources, and in the recognition of access rights of local communities and user groups. In many developing countries in particular, local communities are playing an increasingly important role in day-to-day management and protection of forest resources, and, in the case of indigenous peoples, efforts are being made to minimize outside interference with traditional resource management practices. Efforts are increasingly being made, in developed and developing countries alike, to develop means in which the opinions of a wide range of interest groups can be considered in decision making over forest policy and forest management practices.

Clearly, global forestry faces increasingly difficult challenges as we near the next millennium. Population growth, changes in population distribution, economic pressures, and efforts to alleviate poverty and ensure food security will lead to more intense scrutiny of forests' actual and potential contribution to development, and of the relative benefits of retaining land in forests versus converting it to other land uses. The most obvious challenge within the sector is that of how to meet the growing demand for forest products while at the same time safeguarding the ability of forests to provide a range of environmental services including, among others, the conservation of biological diversity, mitigation of global climate change, protection against desertification and protection of soil and water resources. Conflicting demands and differences in opinion about the relative importance of the goods and various services provided by forests will increasingly have to be reconciled. Demands for achieving more equitable distribution of the benefits from forests, for safeguarding the rights of forest dwellers and indigenous peoples, and for ensuring widespread participation in decision making related to forests will add to the complexity and challenge of forest management and policy making in the coming years.

SOFO provides information on the state of the world's forests today and on recent developments in the sector. It also provides a look into the future for some aspects of forestry. This edition of SOFO is divided into four major parts: situation and prospects for forest conservation and development; policy, planning and institutional arrangements; a special issue chapter; and, finally, six regional highlights which together cover all the countries of the world.

Part 1 examines the status of forest resources, aspects related to forest management, and the goods and services that forests provide. It presents new information on the status of forest cover as of 1995, on the current rate and recent causes of change in forest cover, and on forest condition. This is followed by a discussion of trends in forest management and in harvesting, processing and marketing of forest products. Next, the role of forests in the economy is examined, looking at both the products and the services offered by forests. The difficulties of valuation of these goods and services are also discussed. Among the many environmental services offered by forests and trees, the following are highlighted: environmental protection in ecologically-fragile areas (drylands and uplands); mitigation of global climate change; conservation of biological diversity; contribution to food security; and improvement of environmental conditions in urban and peri-urban areas and of the livelihoods of urban dwellers. SOFO outlines global trends in consumption and production and international trade in forest products over the period 1970-94, and potential consumption and trade patterns for forest products between 1994 and 2010. A part of the section on global trends in consumption and production is devoted to a discussion of non-wood forest products.

Part 2 discusses recent changes in policies, planning and institutional arrangements in the forestry sector. This is followed by information on international initiatives in forestry, and by a section on the status of funding in the forestry sector.

The special issue covered in this edition of SOFO is the development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Part 3 reviews the efforts, particularly those made over the last four years, to develop common criteria at national, regional and eco-regional levels by which sustainable forest management can be defined, and to specify indicators which can be used to monitor it.

Six regional highlights are provided in Part 4. These provide more geographically-specific information on the range of issues related to forests than is done in the preceding three parts of SOFO which focus on the global situation. In addition, information on the place of forestry in various economic or political regional groups is provided in a subsection to Part 4 on pages 162 to 170.

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