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The future of world forestry: Sustainable forest management

D.A. Harcharik

David A. Harcharik is Assistant Director-General and head of the Forestry Department. FAO. Rome. Italy.

David A. Harcharik. Assistant Director- and head of the FAO Forestry Department

The keynote opening speech at the first technical session of the Eleventh World Forestry Congress, 14 October 1997, Antalya, Turkey.

It is my privilege to open the technical portion of this Eleventh World Forestry Congress. In so doing, let me express my appreciation for the excellent arrangements made by the Turkish Government and particularly the Ministry of Forestry. Our hosts have worked extremely hard to prepare the ground for us. In addition, many others have contributed to the voluminous documentation of the Congress. Our task is to take these ideas and discuss. debate and develop them over the next eight days, using the best knowledge from around the globe to arrive at a declaration and set of ideas that will carry world forestry into the twenty-first century, stronger, more secure and more able to meet the challenges before it.

The theme of this Congress is "Forestry for sustainable development: towards the twenty-first century". Thus, this Congress is about the role of forests and trees in contributing to overall sustainable development. It is about trees in forests, but also about the multitude of other plants and animals that inhabit forests, and about the soil, water and air. This Congress is also about trees outside forests - trees that protect agricultural land, provide fruit, fodder and fuelwood and shade our cities. This Congress is also about people - people who live in the forest, as well as those who reside far from forests but who benefit from the services and products that forests provide. This Congress is about how we sustain forests and trees, how we better protect and utilize them for the benefits that they provide to each of the almost 6 billion people on earth today, as well as those yet to be born.

If trees and forests are to deliver their full potential to sustainable development they must be considered from a broad, holistic viewpoint and managed accordingly. This requires a conceptual framework that unites science with social consciousness. I believe that this conceptual framework is vested in sustainable forest management. Let me be clear and direct. I believe that sustainable forest management is the most important concept of our time that directly affects the future of all the world's forests and all the world's people. This Congress presents us with a golden opportunity to add technical meaning to this concept, to share successful experiences in implementing sustainable forest management, and to identify shortcomings and gaps in our knowledge.

The new concept of sustainable forest management

What can be said about this concept of sustainable forest management as we know it today? As a term it is difficult to say and not easy to understand. Generally, however, we recognize that it includes an environmental dimension that aims at the perpetual maintenance of the resource, an economic dimension that includes the production of commodities and services and a social dimension that involves people in decision-making processes concerning forest management and the distribution of forest benefits. Let us examine the concept more closely.

The environmental dimension

The environmental roles of forests have long been recognized by foresters, and foresters typically receive training in soils, hydrology, meteorology, genetics, wildlife management and ecology as part of their formal education. We have incorporated the principal concepts from these disciplines into forest management regimes, and we have also set aside special areas for water catchment, wildlife preservation, plant protection and for scenic, cultural and historical values. In addition, we have promoted the integration of trees into farming systems for environmental benefits as well as commercial use. Indeed, most foresters are proud of their conservation and environmental ethic.

We are also proud of one of our most important and most enduring concepts that of sustained yield. Although very much in vogue today, "sustainability" has been alive and well in the forestry profession for nearly 200 years. Indeed, it is the core principle on which our profession is based. When appropriately implemented, sustained yield forestry has been a highly effective means of protecting environmental values while also producing a major economic commodity wood. We must recognize, though, that sustained yield forestry by definition emphasizes the yield of wood over that of other commodities and values.

The environmental dimension reforestation In Inner Mongolia

This has sometimes led to abuse, and too often there have been examples where land managers concentrated first foremost on timber production and only secondarily on environmental values.

One means of rectifying this is to broaden our concept of sustained yield from one of sustaining wood to one of sustaining the forest as an ecological system. Many efforts are under way today to develop the technologies needed to manage forests as ecosystems and in ways that better protect their value as sources of biological diversity, habitats for wildlife, homes for indigenous people, sinks for carbon and moderators of streamflow and climate. This broadened vision of forests as holistic, complex, diverse and valuable ecosystems is an exciting and critically important dimension of modern approaches to forest management.

The economic dimension

Let me also give you an example of changing perspectives in the economic aspects of forest management. The forests and trees of the world provide a vast array of goods and services that are utilized in one way or another by virtually all of the world's population. FAO estimates the annual value of fuelwood and wood-based forest products to the global economy to be more than US$400 billion. or about 2 percent of the global economic product. Forest-based activities provide income and employment equivalent to 60 million workyears worldwide, of which about 80 percent are in developing countries. Indeed, forest products touch the lives of every human being.

The economic dimension - small-scale industrial charcoal production in Cape Verde

Yet concern over the destruction or degradation of forests has led to cans for the reduction or even curtailment of forest utilization. We must make it clear that forested ecosystems will be sustained only if the full value of forest products and services, both wood and non-wood, is realized. Maintaining and managing the forest must be a more valuable option than its destruction or conversion to some other form of land use. Wood has been, and will continue to be, the most important economic commodity of most forests. We must sustain, and enhance, its value.

In addition, however, there is a need to expand the flow of forest products to include non-wood products and values. More than 30 years ago, the concept of multiple-use forestry became popular. Although this concept has been challenged, its major shortcoming seems to be that it was insufficiently implemented, rather than technically flawed. Implementation of multiple use forestry in the context of sustainable forest management can enhance and diversify the value of forests. This may be especially true for the tropics, where the rich biological diversity is a source of hundreds of products for subsistence and commercial use. However, even in major timber-producing countries in the North, the sale of mushrooms, ferns and other non-wood products has become a multimillion-dollar business. A major change in forestry today is that we are finding increasing commercial uses for the non-wood products of forests.

The social dimension

Let me now turn to what I think is in many respects the most challenging change in forest management - the social dimension. The challenges with regard to the environmental and economic changes in forest management are large, but at least foresters can take comfort in having pursued these issues since the birth of our profession nearly two centuries ago. However, the concern with people - the socio-cultural dimension of modern forest management provides the newest and greatest challenge, at least to many of us.

Indeed, the social dimension of sustainable forest management is less well defined than the others, and most foresters are less equipped to address it. Let me make this point by exaggerating a bit. Although there have been important changes in forestry curricula in recent years, in the past most foresters were well educated in the physical, biological and economic sciences, but less so in the social sciences. We took pride in our professionalism and our sense of public service in managing forests on behalf of the people. Today, however, the people who live in or near the forest, and even those who are distant from it, are demanding to participate in decisions on how forests are managed, and on how forest benefits and costs are shared. Instead of managing for the people, we must now manage with the people. That is what this social dimension is all about. It is a major change in forest management that has both technical and political dimensions.

Managing forests with the people means listening to and learning from them local knowledge and experience are crucial inputs that often have been insufficiently tapped in the past. This means broadening the forest stewardship community to involve social scientists in true partnerships with technically skilled forest managers. And it means building bridges across the broad spectrum of interest groups - communities, environmental and conservation organizations, private industries, landowners and governments at all levels.


Some of you will argue that linking the environmental, economic and social aspects of managing forests is not new, that it is what foresters have been doing for centuries. Clearly there is some truth in this argument. I would suggest that the issue is not whether the concept is new or old, but rather whether it is being implemented on a scale that is wide enough, and whether we are doing our jobs well enough. In my view, we must set ourselves on a course of continual improvement, and there is certainly room for improvement.

Let us ask ourselves a few probing questions:

· Why is it that some 13.7 million ha of the world's forests are still being cleared for other forms of land use every year, and overwhelmingly in an unplanned and destructive manner? Clearly there are many reasons, but is it not in part because we have not done enough to ensure that forests are more valuable as forests than under some other form of land use? Have we done enough to optimize and sustain the economic potential of our forests?
· Why is it that so much public opinion views forest harvesting operations as the great destroyers of the forests, which in their minds leaves behind scarred wastelands and polluted rivers? Is this all environmental propaganda, or are there still too many cases where we are not adequately considering the environmental values of forests?
· Why is it that some 840 million people still do not have access to adequate food and nutrition? Although it is certainly not within the potential of forests and forestry to redress this situation fully, forestry does make a significant contribution to food security and I would argue that more adequately addressing the social aspects of forestry development could enable us to improve this contribution.

The social dimension indigenous farmers working in a community forestry nursery in Colombia


I would not, however, want to leave you with a feeling of doom and gloom. Although I certainly believe that we can and must do better, there are signs that we are moving in the right direction.

According to FAO statistics, it appears that the rate of deforestation in natural forests in developing countries may be slowing. The 13.7 million ha annual loss I referred to previously, although still unacceptably high, represents a decrease from 15.5 million ha per year in the decade of the 1980s. Although it is difficult to know if there is a trend until we have more data, this is certainly a good sign.

In terms of industrial forestry, great strides have been made towards sustainable harvesting and more efficient, ecologically sound processing. Increased recycling, greater use of residues and greater reliance on plantations and farm forestry are permitting an increase in the supply of processed products with reduced pressure on natural resources. Even the "deep green" environmental activist organizations have come to support the position that conservation and utilization can and must go hand in hand if the forests are to play their role in sustainable development.

Countries are establishing new national parks and protected areas, and ecotourism and nature-based tourism in forest areas are increasing rapidly. What is even more encouraging is that protected area management is increasingly focusing on the participation of local people and ensuring direct benefits to them.

With regard to increasing the contribution of forestry to food security, a World Food Summit was held at FAO headquarters less than one year ago. In the Summit documentation, the actual and potential role of forestry in food security emerges strongly. It is up to us to make productive political use of the expressed commitments of national leaders.

And across the globe more and more countries are moving forward strongly towards sustainable forest management at a national level and increasing numbers of forests are being sustainably managed.


In noting these examples of progress, I must highlight the importance of partnerships. A common element in every one of these success stories is a partnership approach involving government, the private sector, landowners, local communities and environmental groups in all aspects of forestry management decision-making and implementation. Where the commitment, experience and resources of this broad community of interest are brought to bear on a common objective, sustainable forestry is not only possible, it is real. You can see it at the site level.


In conclusion, let us all challenge ourselves to redouble our efforts to manage the world's forests in ways that enhance their environmental and economic values and that are socially acceptable, and to build partnerships across the various communities of interest. And let us use this Congress to learn from the experiences of others, both good and bad, and to chart a sustainable course to the year 2000 and beyond.

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