Forest Genetic Resources

Forests and other woodlands provide numerous goods and services which are essential to the livelihoods and well-being of people. Trees are also keystone species of forest ecosystems, which harbour the vast majority of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. Forest genetic resources are the heritable materials maintained within and among tree and other woody plants species that are of actual or potential economic, environmental, scientific or societal value. Forest genetic resources are crucial for the adaptation and evolutionary processes of trees and other woody plant species, as well as for increasing the productivity of both natural and planted forests.

Forest genetic resources are subject to several threats. A major threat is land-use change, i.e. the conversion of forests to crop fields and pasture lands. Other threats include overexploitation, selective harvesting and high tree mortality due to extreme climatic events or outbreaks of pests and diseases. These threats can result in local population extinction and the erosion of forest genetic resources. Conservation and sustainable use of these resources are therefore necessary to ensure that present and future generations continue to benefit from forests and trees.

FAO’s work on forest genetic resources are an integral part of the FAO Forestry Programme and contribute to the Organization’s Strategic Objective 2, to “make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable”.

The Commission is well positioned to link the management of forest genetic resources to relevant global policy issues and to integrate it into cross-sectoral strategies. As part of its Multi-Year Programme of Work, the Commission guided the preparation of The State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources, published in 2014. It constituted a major step in creating awareness and building the information and knowledge base for action to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources at national, regional and international levels.

Based on the findings of The State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources and the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on Forest Genetic Resources, the Commission agreed on global actions which the FAO Conference, in 2013, adopted as the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation, Sustainable Use and Development of Forest Genetic Resources. The Global Plan of Action identifies four priority areas for action, 1) improving the availability of, and access to, information on forest genetic resources, 2) conservation of forest genetic resources (in situ and ex situ), 3) Sustainable use, development and management of forest genetic resources, and 4) policies, institutions and capacity-building.