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Forests and the future: regional perspectives

How will the future of forestry differ around the globe? Unasylva asked experts from six regions to give their predictions.

Many common threads run through the predictions of authors in six regions around the world as they try to picture forests and forestry in 2050. Foremost is the expectation that, in all regions, natural forests will be managed increasingly for recreation, conservation of biodiversity, watershed protection needs and carbon sequestration. Harvesting in natural forests will diminish, while more and more wood demand will be met by production from forest plantations. Production of wood and wood products will be boosted through technological improvements, including developments in biotechnology, and optimization of production chains. Government funding for forestry will become scarcer, and forest management, plantation ownership and investment in forest industries will be increasingly in the hands of the private sector. The role of government institutions will be restricted to policy, legislation and law enforcement.

Beyond this practically universal scenario, regional differences emerge. Authors predict, for example, that the area of natural forests will decrease in Africa and Asia, but expand in the Near East; and that dependence on woodfuel will diminish in Africa and the Near East, while wood will be increasingly used as an energy source in Europe. Moreover, individual authors highlight particular issues. In Asia, for instance, bioprospecting is predicted to become a major source of forest-derived income. In Asia and the Near East, the gradual greening of the deserts is expected to be an important development. In Europe, climate change could have an influence on the forests - positive in the northern countries but detrimental in the Mediterranean area. Each of the following contributions presents, above all, a unique and imaginative vision.


L.I. Umeh and C. Omoluabi

L.I. Umeh is Manager of the Agricultural Division, East and
Charles Omoluabi is Senior Forestry Officer, both in the
African Development Bank, Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.1

Forests in sub-Saharan Africa need to be protected for more than their recognized environmental functions and wood raw material production. In Africa, where agricultural mechanization remains basic, forests make agricultural production economic because they provide cheap materials for farm construction, packaging and tool handles, and fuelwood for cheap energy. Non-wood forest products (NWFPs) are harvested to augment agricultural incomes and provide the means of survival for many people in the rural sector, especially women. In Africa, forest abundance has a strong impact on arts, culture and tradition. The protection and sustainable management of Africa's forests will therefore remain crucial to the economic development of the region.

However, the benefits of forests cannot be ensured to 2050 because of the current rate of deforestation. Existing constraints to management will remain, although perhaps they will become less strong in the future. New forces may emerge, with both positive and negative impacts on sustainable management; on the whole, however, the future for Africa's forests looks bleak.

Per capita forest cover in sub-Saharan Africa (0.9 ha) is low in comparison with most other regions. Sub-Saharan forests have been largely destroyed or fragmented. In West Africa, nearly 80 percent of the original luxuriant moist forest has been cleared. The remaining patches are heavily degraded and have survived through protection as state forests or national parks. Some large blocks of tropical high forests can still be found in Central Africa, where they are threatened by large-scale human migration resulting from conflicts and the breakdown of law and order. The major threats to African forests are land clearing for commercial and subsistence agriculture, wood energy demand, logging, intensive grazing in woodlands, forest fires and human conflicts and associated population movements.


The model used here in predicting the outlook for sub-Saharan forests and forestry to 2050 is a dynamic model that relies to a large extent on developments in the rest of the world. First we assume that Africa will pass through three eras of political, economic and social growth between now and 2050, characterized first by political stabilization, then by technological growth and finally by environmental concerns. A second assumption is that the influence of socio-economic, political and technological factors will become more favourable to forestry in the future. We also recognize the possible impact of global political forces that are beyond the control of Africa.

In Africa, today's national parks and game reserves will perhaps become the only surviving natural forests, but well-kept films may be the only records of the herds of zebras that were once abundant there

- FAO/17391/K. Dunn

Era of political stabilization (2000 to 2020)

The era to 2020 will see massive and uncontrolled deforestation in Africa because of poverty, as Africa will be faced with poorly performing economies and forests will be exploited for poverty alleviation. According to the United Nations (UN), the region's population growth rate will remain as high as 2 percent per year into 2020. FAO has reported that 16 African countries still face exceptional food emergencies resulting from civil strife, population displacement and droughts. With food crisis, investment in forestry development will remain rare, and many African countries will not be able to raise internal resources for environmental protection programmes.

External resources for forestry, in the form of aid and grants, will become more scarce and may even disappear by 2020; it appears that the end of the cold war was also the end of generosity to Africa. Debt cancellation will be minimal and will have no impact on forest management. Development bank loans could be the only way of obtaining some of the limited international resources for forestry development from now until 2020.

At present, the lending rates of development banks are not sector-sensitive; infrastructure and conservation projects are currently subjected to the same lending rates in spite of the environmental benefits of conservation projects, which are weak competitors for financial resources. While many African countries (particularly those in turmoil) are indebted to development banks, the possibilities for lower rates in favour of less competitive sectors appear dim. Thus, funding for sustainable forest management will remain a major problem into the year 2020.

The acute shortage of funds for forestry will have a highly negative impact on the environment and wood supply. This will be most clearly manifested in Africa's inability to meet its domestic needs for industrial wood. While public sector funds from government annual budgets will continue to improve in the future, they will remain seriously inadequate to bridge the gaps that have arisen through long neglect of forests. Over the next 20 years, forestry as a commercial enterprise will remain relatively unattractive to the private sector because of difficult access to land, non-liberalization of timber trade, low wood prices resulting from government price distortions and high borrowing rates.

Era of technological growth (2020 to 2040)

This will be a period of real development for sub-Saharan Africa, with advances in science and technology supporting agriculture and industrialization. Stability and good governance will begin to be seen in most parts of Africa. Food security will have been ensured in many countries, with significant development observed in terms of human resources and welfare, technology and industrialization. With industrial growth there will be less dependence on agriculture for employment. Crop productivity per hectare will have improved drastically, enabling the agricultural sector to release some lands for urban and forestry uses. Private foreign capital will probably have started flowing to Africa because governments will have privatized a larger part of their energy, water, communication and transportation sectors. From 2020, a more stable population can be expected, as well as a more open economy with a high level of trade liberalization and improved infrastructure. Regional integration for improved intra-Africa trade will be strengthened in all subregions of sub-Saharan Africa. Taxation is likely to become more effective with improvements in revenue collection systems. Interest on borrowed capital will have fallen to a single digit.

In this era, however, African natural forests will be highly degraded as a result of long development neglect and exploitation of the resources for economic growth. We expect environmental degradation resulting from forest loss to reach a peak by 2040, with flooding and erosion posing the greatest development challenge in the region. Today's national parks and game reserves will perhaps remain as the only natural forests to survive. Well-kept films may be the only records of the herds of zebras and antelopes that were once abundant in Kenyan and Tanzanian parks. Much biodiversity will have been lost because of the dryness of many African ecosystems.

Wood import bills for some countries will be equal to today's oil import bills. Thus, in terms of development, those countries of Sahelian Africa that lack mineral resources will begin to fall behind the countries of moist Africa, as a result of the burden of energy and wood bills.

With significant wood shortages leading to higher prices and increased trade liberalization, private entrepreneurs and farm families will begin to grow more wood on abandoned farmlands with the encouragement of tax incentives, which governments at all levels will begin to use to stimulate conservation and timber growing. Forestry research will start to receive the support of the private sector and greater appreciation from governments. Governments will also begin to promote conservation, which will become an election issue.

By 2040, communities will become less relevant as agents for forest protection, and private ownership of land will become dominant. Government forestry institutions will have fewer staff, and their role will centre more on formulating policy and initiating environmental legislation. The focus of forestry training will shift from extension to providing skills for forest land management as an economic enterprise.

Era of growing environmental concerns (2040 to 2050)

While, by 2040, the structure of African forests will have changed through the loss of many indigenous species and the introduction of exotic species, the years 2040 to 2050 will see a rapidly growing concern for the environment. With great improvement in incomes, forests will begin to serve more recreation and watershed protection needs. Africans will become less dependent on forests for their energy needs as electricity and gas become more abundant. These developments will be very positive for the environment and conservation. Small-diameter logs will have greater importance for the supply of construction timber. Forest fires will be brought under control as a result of private investments in timber growing. More international agreements will have come into effective operation, and forests will no longer be national assets but of strong regional concern.

Unfortunately, this may happen only when the resource has already gone. We therefore call on governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals to double their efforts to avert this situation.

Asia and
the Pacific

M.N. Salleh

M.N. Salleh is Former President of the International
Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) and
former Director-General of the Malaysian Forest Research
Institute (FRIM), Malaysia.

A Russian proverb says that when we predict the future, the devil laughs. So what if the devil laughs? Let me predict the future of forestry in the Asia and the Pacific region in the year 2050, 50 years hence, and see who has the last laugh, the devil or us foresters!

By 2050, forestry will have become the victim of the social, economic, scientific and political changes that will take place in the region, and in the world, over the next five decades. The walls of communism will crumble everywhere, including in China, and capitalism will be the norm of economic activity. This, together with the spread of globalization into all countries, will have great economic impacts on forestry. The development of science through research and development will have progressed by leaps and bounds, and forestry will benefit significantly, especially from biotechnology.

Privatization of forestry will become the norm in most countries. The public sector, i.e. the forestry departments, will be responsible solely for enforcement of the law and the collection of revenue. The private sector will be repsonsible for all other functions of forestry, including the management of forest plantations, natural forests and parks. This will ensure the practice of more integrated forestry in which upstream activities, traditionally in the hands of the public sector, will be linked directly to downstream activities, which traditionally have been in the hands of the private sector. This evolution will have far-reaching impacts on the development and practice of forestry as well as on the forestry profession in Asia and the Pacific.

In many Asian countries the supply of freshwater will be a major problem, and natural forests will be managed for the production of water which will be sold to public utilities; in the photo, a reservoir in a mountainous area of China

- FAO/20042

The natural forests of the Asia and the Pacific region will be diminished in area. Tropical forests will be limited to Kalimantan and Irian Jaya in Indonesia and small pockets in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The Philippines and Thailand will have little natural tropical forest left. Subtropical forests will be limited to isolated reserves in Southeast Asia, Australia and the Indian subcontinent, while temperate forests will still exist in small reserves in the temperate regions of China, the Indian subcontinent, Australia and New Zealand. However, the use of all these remaining natural forests will be limited to conservation, production of water and recreation, while all wood fibre needs will be met by forest plantations. Foresters will have finally recognized that they must manage the whole ecosystem, including fauna and flora, and must not be limited to managing only trees. These areas will be managed by the private sector and the public good will be one of their most economically valuable products.


Forest recreation will be the commodity in greatest demand, and ecotourism will have been developed to a true science. Ecotours will be so popular that forests will have to be zoned for different intensities or types of eco-activities, and specific recreational management plans will have to be developed to manage recreation within the remaining natural forests.

In many countries the supply of freshwater will be a major problem, and the natural forests will also function as water catchments. These forests will be managed for the production of water which will be sold to public utilities.

The greatest forest-related income will come from bioprospecting permits and agreements. The remaining natural tropical forests of Asia and the Pacific will be opened to international bioprospecting, which will become a global industry equivalent in importance to prospecting for oil. Products that will be sought include pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and other natural products for the food industry such as natural colourings, new herbs and condiments for food. Regulations will be in place to control these bioprospecting activities through a protocol under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and national legislation to ensure equitable benefits and sharing of technology. Tropical countries in particular, where the greatest biodiversity exists, will be proactive in promoting these activities. Adequate control measures will be in place to ensure that the owners of the biodiversity also receive the benefits from these activities. Bioprospecting will be such a lucrative business that maintaining the forest for such purposes will benefit forest owners more than timber harvesting. AIDS and a host of other deadly diseases will no longer exist, because cures will have been found through such bioprospecting arrangements.

All the region's wood fibre needs will be produced by forest plantations, including rubber and oil-palm plantations, which will be recognized internationally as forest plantations. These forest plantations will be managed on short rotations for the production of wood fibre which will then be processed into a variety of value-added reconstituted products. New and sophisticated processing systems using wood fibre as input will provide finished products to order. The whole production process will be automatic and controlled by computers.

Carbon sequestration will be one of the most important functions of forests, as new protocols approved under the revised Framework Convention on Climate Change will allow and promote carbon credits and trading of carbon in the international futures commodity markets; biodiversity credits and transpiration credits will also be traded in the international markets. The global demand for freshwater will exceed supply, and the trading of water credits as a commodity will be on the horizon.

Certification of timber and forests will be the norm; no wood fibre or timber will be sold either locally or internationally without certification for sustainable management. A system for managing the chain of custody will be in place and practised widely. In addition to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), other certification bodies from countries in the South will be recognized and accepted by the international market.


With the management of forests under the private sector, consultancy companies will mushroom in many countries of the South, giving new life to forestry and invigorating the profession. Forestry will have become a respected profession again, even greater in stature than medicine or information technology and engineering, mainly as a result of the demand for the outdoor life and sustainable lifestyles.

The forestry profession will be governed, not only by national rules and regulations with their codes of conduct, but also by an international global forestry council under the auspices of the UN. Forestry schools will proliferate as the demand for forestry training intensifies. The Asia Pacific Association of Forestry Research Institutions (APAFRI), formed in 1995, will be the premier forestry society in the region and its mandate will have been expanded beyond research, to cover the professional practice of forestry.


Biotechnology in forestry will bloom, in terms of both institutional research and the application of research results. Planted trees will be genetically modified to meet certain needs, such as maximizing carbon sequestration, fibre production or any of a wide range of other modifiable traits. Numerous transgenic trees with many different characteristics, such as resistance to diseases and maximized growth rates, will be developed and grown in plantations - although forestry will still be a long way from producing the "ideal" tree. Growth rates of 100 m3 per hectare per year will be normal in tropical species.

In 2050, a new transgenic tree that grows fast, absorbs carbon efficiently and produces edible shoots and fruits will be undergoing genetic modification to produce sap that can be used as fuel to drive automobiles without any processing. Scientists will aim to start economic production of this fuel by the year 2075. Because it will be possible to produce large volumes of wood fibre, biomass energy will be the preferred energy source for power generation, and numerous small biomass power generation plants will cover the rural tropical regions of the Asia and the Pacific region.

Nevertheless, through the development of forest plantation technology, the traditional high-value indigenous timbers of the region will also be grown in selected areas through enrichment planting of degraded forests or in forest plantations. These tropical species will be grown on a 20-year rotation, but their wood will be expensive and will cater for international niche markets.

The arid and semi-arid zones of the region, for example in China, Mongolia, Central Asia and Australia, will benefit from the development of new transgenic plants and trees that can survive and grow under low moisture conditions. The semi-deserts of the past will be green with plants and trees that can withstand extreme low-moisture conditions.

Some of these trees will have been genetically modified to produce strong and long adventitious roots that can seek moisture deep in the soil, and aerial roots that are able to absorb moisture from the air. The aerial roots, stems and branches will also have nodules that absorb nitrogen from the air. When they have been greened, these large expanses of land, once the eyesore of the earth, will generate enough moisture in the air through transpiration to encourage the formation of clouds and even rain. The greening of the deserts, one of the oldest human ambitions, will slowly become a reality. Economical technologies for the desalinization of seawater will allow irrigation of semi-arid and arid regions close to the sea, which will become greened for habitation and agricultural production.

Progress in the greening of the deserts will help overcome the major problem of population in China and India, which will still be the countries with the largest populations in the world. Agricultural production will increase sufficiently to meet the domestic needs of these countries for basic foods. With the land available, the technologies developed and the human resources available, the Asia and the Pacific region will have become the leading producer of food and wood in the world.


C. Prins

Kit Prins is Chief of the Timber Section,
Trade Division, United Nations Economic
Commission for Europe, Geneva, Switzerland.2

Fifty years is less than a complete forest rotation in most parts of Europe, so forest managers today must take actions with a mental picture of conditions 50 to 100 years in the future. Projecting present trends into the distant future is also one of the best ways of understanding the present. Speculations of this nature, however, need to concentrate more on social and economic trends than on technical forestry matters, as the former have the strongest influence on forestry practice.

It is assumed here that Europe will remain peaceful and prosperous, possibly even more prosperous than it is at the beginning of the twenty-first century. If Europe were again to be subject to war or a major catastrophe, natural or human-induced (such as a nuclear explosion), then forests, as well as people, would be devastated and the first priority of foresters would become the protection or reconstruction of what remained. Such events are impossible to foresee, but they cannot be excluded entirely.

Before looking forward, it is wise to look back. What have been the main structural changes influencing European forestry over the past 50 years?

Since the Second World War, perhaps the most fundamental changes have been a huge rise in general prosperity and the current transition from centrally planned to social market economies.

In the forest sector, with the exception of the years immediately following the Second World War, fellings have stayed well below increment and forest area has expanded steadily. There have been few major changes in silvicultural theory and practice: the trend towards intensive monocultures favoured in the 1950s and 1960s has been reversed in response to criticism from an increasingly well informed and environmentally sensitive public. Silviculture has returned to earlier principles, which are more cautious and less economic.

Forest work has become less difficult and dangerous. Improvements in chainsaw design and increased mechanization have improved working conditions but have also made wood harvesting in many parts of Europe somewhat capital-intensive.

The balance between the main roundwood assortments has changed radically: fuelwood has become insignificant in many areas as the prices of non-renewable energy have reached historically low levels (in real terms), and logs are increasingly losing ground to pulpwood. The rise of products based on reconstituted wood has provided outlets for almost all parts of the tree. Very little raw material is wasted. Recovery of waste paper is now standard all over Europe. Recovery of used wood is starting to follow the same trend.

Since the 1970s, the population of Europe (especially northwestern Europe) has become increasingly aware of environmental issues and, with growing prosperity, increasingly unwilling to accept the justification of environmental damage on economic grounds.


Energy prices will be significantly higher in 2050 than they are today, and there will be systematic encouragement of renewable energies, including wood. Oil will lose its preponderance as an energy source by 2030. No single energy source will replace it, but increasingly sources will be adapted to the various uses.

Many political and administrative functions will be internationalized or decentralized to a regional and local level. The nation state, although still important, will no longer be the unique focus of political power. In many areas, European Union (EU) decisions will be crucial. The EU will extend to the frontiers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and will have a major standardizing influence in all areas of life, including the distribution of wealth between richer and poorer parts of Europe. It will also be a more democratic organization than it is today. However, on the global level, the influence of the EU and other large powers (the United States and Japan) will be counterbalanced by a rise in the influence of other regional powers.

In Europe, the demand for recreational facilities will dominate in forests in tourism areas such as this spot near St Moritz, Switzerland

- FAO Forestry Department/TH-119/T. Hofer

The Russian Federation will pass through further periods of extreme tension, even chaos, but will emerge as a major regional power with a reasonably competitive economy. Decline in population (by 20 to 30 percent) will be a significant problem, and hundreds of millions of hectares will be left as wilderness (except for mineral extraction and forestry).

Multinational companies and international NGOs will have great influence, economically and on public opinion. Structural change will be impossible without at least the tacit support of both groups.

Stable or declining population levels, combined with economic prosperity, will make labour in Europe even more expensive (in relative terms) than it is now and will encourage mechanization and automation in every field. New technologies in the communication field and elsewhere will continue to reduce costs and increase effectiveness.

There will be an enormous building boom between 2000 and 2030 in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.


Wood-based products will continue to hold a significant part of the construction and furniture markets, provided that producers continue to innovate, market their products vigorously, keep prices competitive and maintain a favourable environmental image. Composite products with tailor-made specifications, manufactured in large, capital-intensive units from homogeneous, low-quality raw materials will dominate. Traditional sawnwood with its low processing input, irregular characteristics and high raw-material quality requirements will become a luxury or niche product.

Only a few companies and regions of production will have the scale of operations, capital reserves and expertise to be serious global players in this competitive environment. In Europe, such players might include the Nordic and Baltic countries (increasingly seen as a single region); northern Spain, Portugal and southwestern France; Ireland and Scotland; Austria; Poland; and the northwestern area of the Russian Federation. These areas will be marked by very intensive silviculture and a high concentration of processing plants. Elsewhere markets for wood as raw material will be weak, and profitability (if there is any at all) low.

The demand for recreational facilities will dominate in all forests near centres of population and tourism destinations. Conflicts between user groups will intensify, with forest owners (public or private) having to arbitrate.

Consumers will be increasingly sophisticated and demanding as regards both product performance and environmental aspects. For example, European consumers will no longer accept wood from natural forests - but this will be of marginal importance as all natural forests will have been permanently protected or converted to semi-natural (i.e. managed) or plantation forest, and plantation-grown timber will be much cheaper.

Energy will be the major new market as, under the influence of climate disasters attributed to greenhouse gases, governments finally use the price weapon to discourage the use of non-renewable energy sources3 and encourage wood supply and demand through vigorous actions. There will be many small wood-burning installations; wood will be almost the only energy source for heating in rural areas and a significant one elsewhere. Wood-based fuels such as ethanol or methanol will be manufactured on a large scale to replace some uses of oil.


Strict standards of biodiversity conservation (protection of key habitats, wildlife corridors, etc.) will be enforced everywhere, without exception.

In the intensive wood production areas, which will be owned by either forest industries or large private owners linked to the industries through contract or share ownership, specialized wood production companies will carry out most management tasks. The whole system - from plantation to harvesting, transport, processing and marketing - will be highly optimized, and all links in the chain will be in constant contact with one another. Genetic improvements and intensive silvicultural regimes will bring much improved yields and shorter rotations. Trees will be selected genetically, not only for fast growth, but also for wood characteristics such as reduced lignin for pulping. In most cases, the end use of the tree will be known when it is planted. In these areas, forest ownership and management will be profitable and there will be an active market in forest land.

Outside the intensive wood production regions, the general utility of forests to society will be recognized. Forest owners' income flows will come from wood sales, mostly to local wood energy markets (which will be closely regulated, as the markets for electricity, gas or public transport are today); they will also receive public payments to compensate costs not covered by wood sales, in exchange for significant restrictions on their freedom of choice. User fees will be seen as unfair and difficult to administer, as road use fees are today. For a very few forests with high recreation value, entrance fees (similar to those already made for motorway access in some countries) will be charged.

In areas with high recreational use, the public authorities may have to take over the day-to-day management of the forest, as small private owners will not have the requisite skills. However, in more remote rural areas outside the intensive wood production regions, most forests will hardly be managed at all, reverting slowly to a more natural state and expanding naturally on to former agricultural land.

A large part of forest managers' time will be spent running public participation exercises: the profession of forester will be seen as a "people" job, not a technical one.

Climate change will modify site conditions and influence yields. Some areas will become more competitive (e.g. southern Finland and Sweden), while others will experience acute problems (e.g. Mediterranean forests threatened by fire and desertification), but overall the sector will adapt successfully. Europe will have a few "Kyoto forests" (forests established and managed specifically as carbon sinks and taken into account in the auditing process of the Framework Convention on Climate Change), mostly financed by arrangements with local or national power companies, but most of the activity linked to carbon sinks will take place in areas with better growing conditions and cheaper land.


Certification will no longer be a contentious issue; either certified products will have a small niche market or (more likely) all forest products will be routinely certified.

At the local level, conflicts among user groups will be the most important preoccupation. At the national and EU levels, discussion will centre on the public funding that can be made available for forest management in non-intensive wood production areas. At the international level, political discussion will focus on problems of trade policy (a "level playing field" for wood producers). It will prove difficult to distinguish payments for the management of non-intensive forests (which will be considered legitimate) from subsidies to intensive wood production areas (which will be considered, in theory if not in practice, illegitimate).

As today, the main preoccupation of most forest owners will be how to cover their costs and make a profit, while satisfying all the needs of society.

Latin America
and the

I. Tomaselli

Ivan Tomaselli is Director of the Brazilian
forestry consulting company STCP - Engenharia
de Projetos, and Professor at the Federal
University of Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil.

The Latin America and the Caribbean region still has vast land areas covered by forests, but the potential represented by these forests has not yet been fully recognized and developed in most countries. What will the scenario be in 2050? This question can only be answered by first looking back.

As in most parts of the world, forests in Latin America and the Caribbean were in the past considered to be an obstacle to development with relatively low economic importance. For a long time, the region had a negative balance of international trade in forest products.

In the early twentieth century, even Brazil, currently the region's main producer and exporter of forest products, was a large importer of timber. For many years the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden exported large volumes of lumber to Brazil. Factors arising from the First and Second World Wars helped reverse this situation, but in Brazil, as well as in other countries of the region, the consolidation of the forest sector did not start until much later.

Land, agricultural and forest policies developed by some countries during the 1960s were perhaps the most important elements leading to changed perspectives related to forests and forestry in the region.

Forestry policies had a substantial impact, particularly in Brazil and Chile. In the 1960s these countries developed a fiscal incentive programme to support the establishment of forest plantations. The plantations, mainly based on pines and eucalyptus, soon made available uniform and low-priced raw material, recognized as an important element in attracting the capital needed to develop the forestry industry.

Land and agricultural policies led to the occupation of tropical forest areas. As a result, large volumes of high-quality and low-priced logs were made available. During the same period, the tropical timber industry flourished in Asia. Tropical timber products gained new markets, and thus opened new perspectives for investments, particularly in the Amazon basin.

The regional economic crisis of the 1980s, globalization and environmental pressures were key elements in introducing recent changes to forestry developments in the region.

Chile was able to modernize and open its economy faster than other countries in the region, attracting capital and developing the potential represented by the established forest plantations. Brazil faced a long period of high inflation and economic stagnation. Lacking capital and being less attractive to international investors, its forest sector developed more slowly. In any case, these two countries were the only ones in the region to develop the forest sector (at least to some extent), mostly based on plantations.

Brazil and Chile served as models to other countries. Lessons learned from the fiscal incentive programmes in these countries were used to develop fiscal and other incentive mechanisms further. Incentives are now important instruments for the expansion of forest plantations in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, and other countries have shown willingness to adopt similar models.

The low sustainability of agricultural projects in the Amazon, and environmental pressures were important factors for the development of new forest policies. The process started in Brazil, where several legal instruments for further regulation of forestry activities were put in place. The process is now spreading all over the region. Based on an ample discussion, Bolivia adopted a new forestry law in 1996. Peru approved a new law early in 2000, and other regulatory mechanisms are under development.

The model adopted can vary from country to country. In Brazil, for example, the model is based on privately owned production forests, while in Peru and Bolivia forests are the property of the state and are made available to the private sector as concessions. All models, however, have incorporated the principles of sustainable forest management.

Workers tend future trees in a Eucalyptus nursery in Honduras; in Latin America and the Caribbean, Eucalyptus plantations will be among the main sources of wood raw material in 2050

- FAO/20720/A. Proto


Regardless of the model adopted or the type of forest, all forestry-related activities in most countries of the region are heavily regulated. In many cases decisions taken by governments are influenced by international pressure. As a general rule, regulatory measures have been increasing in forestry, while in other sectors policies for deregulation predominate in response to the globalization process.

Apparently, most governments of the region have failed to put in place the proper mechanisms to make environmental concerns and development policies compatible. Low managerial capability is the main problem, and this is not likely to be solved in the next few years.

In spite of the efforts made, international cooperation has not been able to help solve this and other existing limitations. In retrospect it seems that international cooperation has been an expensive and inefficient mechanism.

Governments are motivated internally and externally to increase regulations. This requires new structures to enforce the legal instruments, and little attention has been paid to the efficiency of the process. The process is augmenting, and will continue to augment, costs to governments, and is transferring costs to the private sector.

Some countries have promoted the decentralization of public administration, involving state and municipal governments in forestry, environmental monitoring and other related issues. This has been considered a way of enhancing the involvement of stakeholders and of facilitating the adjustment of regulatory and development instruments to local specific conditions. The principle is correct, but the results in most cases have not been positive. Decentralization has generally resulted in overlapping of regulations, multiplication of regulatory bodies, more conflicts and additional costs.

As a result of these developments, companies and countries of the region are becoming less competitive, and lower competitiveness creates more limitations for the adoption of sustainable forest management, the final goal. Other global market players are less regulated and have a competitive advantage.


The regulatory trend will continue in the coming years and, for some countries of the region, it will probably take at least 20 years to reverse it. By that time forest products based on native sources are likely to have lost most of their market.

Plantation forest areas in Latin America and the Caribbean will continue to expand. In most countries of the region, plantation forests are heavily regulated at present, but they will be less regulated in the future. In addition, from a purely economic point of view, plantations are more productive than native forests. These factors will make plantation-based products more competitive. Technology will further help plantation forests, making it possible to produce higher-quality and more uniform material more quickly. In the future, better and cheaper wood products will be produced from plantation-grown wood.

Not all countries of the region will benefit from forest plantations. Plantations are a long-term investment, and not all countries are able to ensure the legal, political and economic stability required by investors. In addition, countries with limited local markets and poor infrastructure will have less of a chance to develop forestry in the coming years.

Current developments related to forest plantations clearly indicate that in the near future the Southern Cone of Latin America will be among the most important forest-product producing regions of the world. Pinus and Eucalyptus plantations will be the main source of raw material. Eucalyptus species will gain market from tropical timbers.

Capital will continue to flow into the Southern Cone countries, mostly via private investors. Large corporations will gradually replace the existing industry. Forest ownership and industrial production will be highly concentrated. The regional market will grow faster than the global market and will be important for local producers, but the region will also become an important player in the international market.

Native forests in the future will be managed mainly for environmental purposes. Native forest production areas will be reduced, as native forests are set aside for environmental reasons or because of lack of competitiveness.

More and more money from international cooperation and other financing mechanisms (carbon sequestration, debt swapping, biodiversity protection, etc.) will be invested in the protection of native forests. Several governments of the region will accept these funds and will pass and enforce laws and regulations that will continuously reduce production from native forests. This will be an easier and faster means both of solving immediate problems related to lack of capital and of achieving the expectations of the countries' populations. Governments will thus reduce social pressure and gain political stability. Future generations will judge the success of this decision.

Near East

H.O. Abdel Nour

Hassan Osman Abdel Nour is a freelance forestry
consultant based in Khartoum, the Sudan.

We foresters, or at least most of us, spent the twentieth century sulking and cursing our fate. We protested, usually among ourselves, the nearbottom position accorded to our profession by society, or let us say by decision-makers. We cannot, and surely should not, go through the twenty-first century with this attitude. Let us aspire for, or at least dream of, a better deal.

The following vision is directed to those who choose to join the forestry profession in the Near East during the latter part of the fourth or early part of the fifth decades of the current century. They will approach the year 2050 in their prime, in their late thirties, with more than a decade of experience and more than two decades of active service before retirement.


It is hoped that, well before 2050, regional conflicts, intergovernmental disputes and internal strife will have been amicably resolved. Coups d'état will give way to democratic processes. The only way of assuming power will be through the polls. Commitment to the environment and to sustainable development will have high priority in party manifestos and election pledges. Promises will be kept and commitments effected.

With better governance, public opinion will be more influential, and the roles of civil society, NGOs, the private sector and local communities will be enhanced. All of these are likely to have a positive influence on directing more attention, efforts and resources towards the environment, particularly tree planting. They are also likely to promote greater efficiency in the use of resources for this objective.

Budgetary allocations for armament, war, security and the like will be shifted to more humane and constructive uses. The bulk of national budgets and bilateral and multinational funding will be directed to reconstruction, sustainable development, environmental rehabilitation and human welfare.


With the settlement of internal strife and the attainment of social stability, urbanization and automation, employment opportunities will be needed. What better source of opportunity than forestry and tree planting?

Discharged soldiers and draftees in national services will be retrained and deployed, together with their earthmoving equipment, trucks, water tankers, etc., to work in reconstruction and environmental rehabilitation. They, together with forest guards and foresters in general, will be trained to forego the police mentality and to accept social fences in place of barbed wire ones.

This transformation will entail radical changes in the curricula of forestry schools in order to give more emphasis to non-traditional services and products rendered by forests, especially the protection of watersheds and watercourses, desertification control and NWFPs. Greater attention will also need to be given to social forestry, to the removal of "Berlin Walls" between forestry, agriculture and horticulture and to implanting contemporary concepts such as national forestry programmes, biodiversity and sustainable forest management. The ultimate objective is to produce the awaited "new forester".

In addition to discharged soldiers, other social sectors besides those currently involved in forestry and tree planting will become involved, particularly women. Indicators of this are already evident in some countries such as the Sudan, where increasing numbers of female students are joining faculties and departments of forestry (as well as other areas of higher education). Indeed, a recent batch of forestry graduates in the Sudan was made up of 11 women and only one man. Many women, as individuals or as groups, are already forest owners or are involved in private, homestead and community forestry. If the trend continues, by 2050 it may be not the women, but the men in forestry who are seeking equal opportunity.

Sustainable forest management and conservation

As attention shifts and environmental awareness grows, factors detrimental to the environment, forestry and trees will be reversed. Decades of the practice of sustainable development will finally have brought the concept home. Sustainable agricultural production will be sufficient to meet national and regional demand, or nearly so. Urban sprawl will not encroach on arable land but will inhabit deserts and mountainsides. Environmental concern will not only stop the curtailment of forest and woodlands, but will make more land available for them.

With better living standards and the availability of alternative energy sources, particularly electricity, kerosene and butane gas, the need to use fuelwood or to collect it as an income-generating activity will be diminished. So will communal grazing and transhumant livestock rearing have decreased. Instead, the forest estate and arboured areas will be expanding.

With increased awareness of forests and woodlands as common property in which all people have an interest, deliberate destruction and arson on these lands will decline. Conflicts over land use in forested areas and disputes with foresters will no longer be protested by the belligerent setting of fires - currently a serious problem in the region - as the need for forest protection gains greater recognition.

Sand dunes may continue to encroach on human settlements and property, but they will be undergoing stabilization and fixation. Wildlife sanctuaries, recreational parks, green spaces, botanic gardens and arboreta will be in the process of establishment everywhere. Farms, homesteads, civic centres, roads, canals and railways will be lined by multiform, colourful and seasonally flowering trees.

In the future, sand dunes in the Near East will make way for wildlife sanctuaries and recreational parks; in the photo, technicians consult a satellite map regarding the development of a wildlife reserve in the Palmyra rangeland fo the Syrian Arab Republic

- FAO/19060/R. Faidutti

The resolution of internal and interboundary conflicts will facilitate the allocation of resources and ease access for the sustainable management of common watersheds, the establishment of common shelterbelts and the harvesting of runoff from rainstorms. One of the important activities in watershed management will be tree planting and conservation. This will eventually render more and better-quality water for all purposes, including irrigated forests, green areas, shelterbelts and scattered trees.

Similarly, the resources once spent on war and on reversing the consequences of war will be freed up for allocation to desalinization of seawater and recycling of excess water from irrigated fields, sewage effluents and industrial wastewater, and the use of this water for irrigating trees. The benefit from the extra water made available will be maximized through the development and adoption of improved irrigation systems.

Of course, even with the resulting improvement in moisture regimes, the increased numbers of trees and shrubs in the landscape and the reduced setbacks from overgrazing and factors of vegetation removal, it is not possible to expect that the environment will revert to what it was in prehistoric times. Still, many species of flora and fauna could probably be restored, either from buried seed banks or through deliberate reintroduction, to the levels of the not-so-distant past.

North America

M. Dombeck and A. Moad

Michael Dombeck is Chief of the Forest Service,
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Alex Moad is Assistant Director for Technical
Cooperation, International Programs, USDA Forest Service.

Predicting the future of forests and forest management is as risky as predicting that of other biomes and human endeavours. Perhaps more so, since the fate of forests is so strongly influenced by external forces such as population and consumption trends, changes in agricultural technology and prevailing social attitudes towards nature, recreation and landscape aesthetics. In North America, these influences are further complicated by enormous variation in forest type (ranging from the boreal forests of Alaska and northern Canada to the tropical forests of southern Mexico), ownership (federal, state and local governments, private industry and smallholders, and communal and tribal organizations) and level of economic development. Nevertheless, from current trends it should be possible to make at least some broad predictions about how North American forests and forest management will fare in the first half of the twenty-first century.


Perhaps the most pronounced change in North American forest management over the next several decades will be a continuation of the dramatic shift in public perception concerning the value and appropriate uses of forests. In particular, publicly owned natural forests will become increasingly valued for the environmental services they provide - notably watershed protection, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration - instead of just their wood and other forest product values.

Clean, reliable water is and will surely remain one of the most important products of forests throughout North America, essential not only for irrigated agriculture in the western United States and northern Mexico, but also for industrial and residential use throughout the continent. In fact, the National Forests in the United States were created in large part to reverse the deterioration of watersheds during the nineteenth century and restore them to health, a process that occupied much of the first half of the twentieth century. Today, these forests encompass some 3 400 watersheds which provide drinking-water for more than 60 million people. As the economy of Mexico continues to diversify and expand, thousands of expanding municipalities will depend on water from forested lands for both domestic and industrial use.

Forest-based recreation, already a high priority in much of North America, is likely to become even more important as per capita productivity rises and leisure time increases in all countries, and as the urban middle class in Mexico continues to grow.

As species continue to be lost worldwide, forests will become increasingly valued as reservoirs of biodiversity. In North America, attention will likely continue to centre on the species-rich forests of southern Mexico and Mesoamerica. But biodiversity will also be an important factor in temperate forest management, as witnessed by current efforts to modify forest management practices along the west coast of the United States and Canada in order to protect wild salmon populations.

Finally, as the effects of global climate change become more apparent, the role of forests as both carbon sinks and moderators of climatic disturbance (such as flooding) will take on a new meaning. Implications for management objectives include not only the addition of carbon sequestration to the goals of multipurpose forest management on public lands, but also specific reforestation and forest protection projects on private lands, in response to incentives provided by carbon markets.

In order to increase the role of environmental services in forest management, at least three fundamental changes in North American forest management practices will be necessary. First, substantial cost and effort will be required to restore North American forests to ecological health. This is particularly true in the western United States, where a combination of extensive harvesting and fire prevention, however well intentioned, has unfortunately led to undesirable changes in species composition, stand structure and fuel loads, leaving many forests vulnerable to uncharacteristically intense fires and disease spread. Similar, although perhaps less severe, challenges face Canada and Mexico.

Forest-based recreation, already a high priority in much of North America, is likely to gain importance in the next 50 years - the blink of an eye for these giant sequoia trees near Yosemite National Park, California, which can live for more than 3 000 years

- FAO Forestry Department/TH-097/T. Hofer

Second, innovative mechanisms that reflect adequately the full value of environmental services will need to be adopted in public policy-making and market structures. For example, healthy, functioning watersheds save local communities throughout North America billions of dollars in water filtration costs. Yet the environmental services of forests have traditionally been treated as a "free good," with inadequate recognition of their true value or the costs associated with maintaining them. This is beginning to change; New York City, for example, recently decided to invest US$1 500 million in watershed management and reforestation as an alternative to paying up to US$8 000 million for new water treatment plants. To correct the problem of undervalued environmental services, it is likely that such market-based practices as conservation easements, carbon trading and "true cost" pricing of water, recreation and hydroelectric power will become more common.

Third, increased attention will need to be given to the social dimensions of forest management. Recreational use in National Forests in the United States has grown from fewer than 20 million person-days in 1950 to approaching 1 000 million person-days today, yet insufficient effort has been given to understanding the nature and management implications of this dramatic shift in forest use. As managers adapt to changes in public attitudes towards and uses of forests, research will be needed to clarify social priorities and improve understanding of human interactions with forests. As appreciation of the importance of social and institutional arrangements grows among forest managers, it is likely that new approaches will be adopted to ensure transparency and public involvement in decision-making. Criteria and indicators of sustainability at both the national (e.g. the Montreal Process) and the management unit (e.g. certification) levels, the devolution of decision-making to local institutions, and innovative approaches to public-private partnerships are just a few examples of possible means of improving transparency and public involvement in forest management. Finally, to manage forests on a landscape scale, it is likely that new mechanisms will be developed for voluntary coordination of land management across ownership boundaries, including international borders. The presence of Mexican and Canadian firefighters in the United States during the severe fires of 2000, as well as similar assistance to both countries from the United States in recent years, is testimony to the potential of such cooperation.


North American forests will not, however, cease to be important sources of timber, fibre and other commercial products. On the contrary, it is probable that North American wood and fibre production will increase in the next few decades in response to overall domestic and international demand, which is likely to grow, despite product substitution effects. However, this production will probably by concentrated increasingly in privately owned plantation forests that are specifically dedicated to fibre production, rather than in publicly owned, natural forests. One of the reasons for this trend (which is already much in evidence) to continue is the reduction of harvesting on publicly held lands because of the depletion of commercially available stocks and public concerns regarding the compatibility of logging and environmental services. The introduction of new fast-growing hybrid trees adapted to a wider range of growing environments will both help to increase the comparative economic advantage of plantation-grown wood and extend its range to new areas.

This does not mean that commercial harvesting will necessarily disappear from natural forests during the coming decades. Carefully regulated harvesting is likely to be an important tool for managing forests for multiple benefits (including restoring them to health) for decades to come. In fact, a priority will be to find new means of utilizing small-diameter wood as part of the process of restoring ecological health to Western forests with high fuel loads. In addition, small, family-owned forest plots throughout the region, particularly in the northeast and the tropics, are likely to continue to be managed for high-value wood products, among other objectives.

It seems probable that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will have a revolutionary role in fibre production in the coming decade and beyond. Given the legitimate concerns over the wisdom of creating and deploying GMOs, especially in wildland habitats, it seems likely that their contribution to fibre production will be focused on tree plantations and agricultural crops, combined with new processing technologies for composite materials. Perhaps even more influential will be the impact of GMOs on forests via the agricultural sector, through the concentration of crop production and subsequent reforestation of marginal lands, the extension of modified crops on to lands previously unsuitable for agriculture, or both. Finally, it is impossible to overlook the potential of GMOs either to harm forests through the introduction of novel invasive species or to be of benefit to them through the reintroduction of such species as the American chestnut and the American elm.

Predicting the future is risky, but it is far riskier, especially in a field with such a long time horizon as forest ecosystem management, to make no attempt to anticipate the future and prepare for it.

1 The ideas expressed here are those of the authors and not those of the African Development Bank.
2 This article has benefited from the suggestions of Volker Sasse, who is in charge of European forest sector outlook studies.
3 Although the protests of September 2000 against petrol prices in Europe show that this will be politically very difficult.

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