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Forests cover nearly one-third of the world’s land area. They provide vital environmental services such as soil and water protection, regulate the climate and preserve biodiversity, produce valuable raw materials and food, and sustain the livelihoods of millions of people

Forest genetic resources refers to the heritable materials maintained within and among tree and other woody plant species that are of actual or potential economic, environmental, scientific or societal value (FAO, 2014b). As mentioned in the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), forests are home to the vast majority of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity (MEA, 2005), and trees are the keystone species of forest ecosystems. Forest trees differ from other plant species in their capacity to maintain high levels of genetic diversity within populations rather than among populations (Hamrick, 2004). This results from their outcrossed mating system, extensive gene flow and large population sizes (Petit and Hampe, 2006). Forest trees and other woody plant species provide wood, fibre, fuel and many non-wood forest products. They also contribute to a broad range of ecosystem services and fulfil environmental functions. According to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), there are approximately 60 000 tree species (BGCI, 2017), but only very few have been studied in any depth for their present and future potential. Globally, around 2 400 species of trees, shrubs, palms and bamboo are actively managed for products and/or services, and approximately 700 tree species are subject to tree improvement programmes (FAO, 2014b).

Forest genetic resources (FGR) are the heritable materials maintained within and among tree and other woody plant species that are of actual or potential economic, environmental, scientific or societal value. They are crucial to the adaptation and protection of our ecosystems, landscapes and production systems, yet are subject to increasing pressures and unsustainable use.

Satisfying humans’ basic need for food puts enormous pressure on the environment. One of the key challenges facing the world today is how to meet the need for sufficient, safe and nutritious food without exhausting the resources available. While undernourishment is down from 1 billion people in 1992 to 805 million today (a fall of more than 17 percent in slightly more than 20 years), about one in nine people still suffers from chronic hunger,1 and about 162 million children under the age of five are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.2 This is unacceptable. In the words of FAO’s Director-General, “when it comes to hunger, the only acceptable number is zero!”3

One of the major and growing environmental challenges of the 21st century will be the rehabilitation and restoration of forests and degraded lands. Notwithstanding the largescale restoration projects initiated in Africa and Asia as of the 1970s, the current level of interest in forest and landscape restoration is more recent. With the adoption of the strategic plan of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity for 2011-2020, a strong new impetus has been given not only to halt degradation, but to reverse it. The plan states that, by 2020, 15 percent of all degraded lands should be restored. This target is consistent with the Bonn Challenge, which calls for restoring 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020

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