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International Tropical Timber Organization


ITTO is an intergovernmental organization comprising producer and consumer countries, which account for the bulk of tropical forests in the world and almost all international trade in tropical timber products. Its work and activities is governed by the International Tropical Timber Agreement 1994, (ITTA, 1994) being the only global convention now in existence on forests. ITTO seeks to achieve its long-term objective through a three-pronged approach:

· Firstly, the promotion of conservation and sustainable management of tropical forests including reforestation of degraded areas;

· Secondly, the promotion of sustainable forest industries and in particular further and increased processing of timber in producer countries so that they may enjoy the benefits of the exports of greater value added products; and

· Thirdly, the creation of transparency of the trade in tropical timber through the collection and dissemination of information which will lead to a better pricing structure of tropical timber.

ITTO is committed to strike a balance between conservation and utilization of tropical forests through international cooperation. To this end, ITTO is working closely with relevant conservation non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and timber trade associations. Indeed in all ITTO Expert Panels that examine important issues, both conservation and trade NGOs are invited and sponsored to participate. They are therefore very much partners in the consultative and deliberative process of the ITTO forum.


From the beginning, ITTO focused its policy work on the promotion of sustainable forest management. In 1988, the organization implemented a study to assess the extent to which tropical forests were being managed on a sustainable basis. This study was undertaken by the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED) of London under the leadership of Professor Duncan Poore. The study eventually led to the publication of the well-known book “No Timber without Trees.” It addressed what became one of the key issues for ITTO and showed the enormous magnitude of the problems related to the tropical forests worldwide, but it also pointed towards ways for improvement. The study identified conditions governing the administration of sustainably managed forests - stability of tenure, effective planning and implementation of yield control and harvesting, for example - and gave clues as to what had to be done. However, the methods for achieving these conditions were found to be quite specific to the countries in which sustainable management was found to be working, so they had to be incorporated into systems of general and practicable guidelines. This led to the development of the ITTO guidelines for the practice of sustainable forest management.

The ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests contains a set of principles which constitutes the international reference standard, established by ITTO, for the development of more specific national guidelines. The development, application and enforcement of national guidelines based on an internationally accepted standard are matters for national decision by individual timber producing countries. The adoption by ITTO and all its member countries of the international guidelines was a significant step. This proved to be in the best interest of all producer and consumer countries concerned with the efficient and sustainable development of the tropical forest resources and forest-based industries.

By 1992, four sets of operational guidelines for achieving sustainable forest management had been developed and adopted by the International Tropical Timber Council (ITTC). The first, for the management of natural tropical forests and thus applying to the greater part of the resources, dates from 1989. It was followed by guidelines for tropical forest plantations and for the conservation of biodiversity in tropical production forests. The fourth set of guidelines on prevention and management of fire in tropical forests was completed early in 1997.

In 1991, ITTO followed up on the guidelines by the issuing of the “Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management.” In this initiative, ITTO played a pioneering role. The text of the criteria begins by providing a working definition of sustainable forest management and proceeds, thereafter, to link general criteria for sustainability with their corresponding examples of operational indicators. The criteria are written in general concise terms. To become operational and field-oriented, these generalized criteria need to be adapted to suit the national and forest management unit levels. They are necessarily conceived as dynamic and subject to revision from time to time with new and evolving experiences. They also provide the basis for a standard reporting system to facilitate comparison and discussions for cooperation and assistance needed to achieve sustainability. ITTO has recently reviewed and updated its criteria and indicators, incorporating the experience gained earlier. An Expert Panel met in Yokohama in September 1997 and developed an updated set of relevant criteria and indicators required for the implementation of sustainable forest management, which was adopted by the Council Session in May 1998.

The ITTO Year 2000 was a major step in terms of forestry policy formulation towards sustainability and was welcomed by the entire international forestry community. Although originally designed to mainly focus on tropical forests, the ITTO Year 2000 Objective has become an agreed agenda for all types of forests. Similarly, in a statement attached to the ITTA 1994, ITTO consuming member countries also committed to achieve the sustainable management of their forests by year 2000.


The 1992 set of ITTO criteria and indicators includes 7 criteria and 27 indicators at the national level, and 6 criteria and 23 indicators at the forest management unit level. One of the characteristics of this first set of criteria and indicators was its focus solely on natural forests, which appeared then to be the main concern in the international debate on forestry.

Another characteristic was the emphasis on timber production, while apparently less emphasis was given to biological diversity conservation and the involvement of local communities in forest management. Adjustments were pursued in 1993, with the publication of the ITTO Guidelines for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Tropical Production Forests, which became a supplement of the ITTO Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests.

On the other hand, an attempt was made to identify a limited number of criteria that could reflect sound forest management with clear but simple indicators, in order to assess and monitor the trend of forest change. This simplicity and flexibility was essential in order to take into consideration the varied situations among member countries, and the heterogeneity of forest types and ecosystems.


The 1992 criteria and indicators have been used as a framework for reporting progress towards the achievement of the sustainable forest management in general, and the ITTO Year 2000 Objective in particular, by ITTO member countries. This reporting was one of the commitments made by member countries in Quito in 1991.

In order to facilitate reporting, in 1993, ITTO adopted a common format for reporting progress towards the Year 2000 Objective. This format generally took into account the set of criteria and indicators adopted in 1992 in order to encourage initial reporting, with the understanding that the format will be revised to include more information as additional data become available in member countries.

The reporting has not been easy for member countries. Among the major constraints are data deficiencies and outdated data, while institutional capacity for data collection and analysis is often inadequate. Some relevant measures have been initiated by ITTO to improve capacity, such as the regular organization of training workshops for the collection of forest statistics, and the development of a user friendly formats for data collection. Several pilot projects to improve the collection of forestry related data have also been implemented in member countries. Specific projects to promote, disseminate and to provide training on the application of criteria and indicators for sustainable tropical forest management have also been implemented.


Although the criteria and indicators (1992) have not been fully implemented by members as a means of reporting progress towards the ITTO Year 2000 Objective for the reasons mentioned above, it was felt necessary to revise this set of criteria and indicators, for the following reasons:

· the need to give emphasis to certain areas, in particular in the field of biodiversity conservation, local communities’ participation and environmental aspects;

· the criteria and indicators (1992) were developed before the Earth Summit took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Its deliberations were considered as the most authoritative consensus for sustainable forestry. Therefore, such criteria and indicators should also take into account the Rio Declaration, the Forest Principles, Agenda 21, the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity which were adopted during the Summit;

· as the follow-up of the Earth Summit, many other international and regional initiatives on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management have emerged, some of them inspired by the pioneering ITTO criteria and indicators;

· relevant experiences had been gained by ITTO through project implementation in the field and lessons learnt from the collection of data; and

· significant results emanating from research on testing criteria and indicators in the field, conducted by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), are becoming available.

In this light, in November 1996, ITTO convened an Expert Panel comprising sixteen members: six representing producer countries, six from consumer countries, two representatives from the NGO community and two from trade/industry, to revise the 1992 set of criteria and indicators. The draft produced was reviewed by the ITTC during its Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Sessions, and adopted in 1998 as the ITTO criteria and indicators (1998).


The criteria and indicators (1998) retained certain characteristics of the criteria and indicators (1992). Both sets of criteria and indicators were developed through consultation among representatives from ITTO producing and consuming member countries, the NGO community, and the trade/industry organizations, which represent the main stakeholders of forestry development.

The criteria and indicators (1998) are still focused on natural tropical forests; planted forests were not included. This was deemed necessary to keep the criteria and indicators clear and easy for interpretation and assessment. It was also felt that fundamental differences exist between the management of plantations and the management of natural forests. Therefore, it seemed more appropriate to identify separate criteria and indicators for natural forests and for plantations, although both have to be managed on a sustainable basis in order to achieve sustainability.

Another characteristic that has been retained is that the criteria and indicators have been identified at two levels: the national level, and the forest management unit level, although many criteria and indicators apply at both levels. The rationale was to make these criteria and indicators as clear and specific as possible in order to facilitate monitoring and assessment.

Finally, both sets include a limited but meaningful number of criteria and indicators to facilitate reporting. The revised set includes 7 criteria and 66 indicators, compared to 13 criteria and 50 indicators for the previous set (1992).

The two sets of criteria and indicators differ to some extent, however. The criteria and indicators (1998) include clear definition of terms in order to avoid confusion and facilitate reporting. In this connection, it is noted that the title has changed from “Criteria for the Measurement of Sustainable Tropical Forest Management” in the 1992 set to “Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests” in the 1998 set. The 1998 title is more compatible with the issue at stake, where criteria and indicators are tools to assess trends of forest conditions and forest management, over time.

The 1998 criteria and indicators are better organized and ensure greater coverage of the features and requirements associated with the sustainable management of tropical forests.


The ITTO criteria and indicators (1998) have now been published, hence member countries have been provided with an improved tool for assessing changes and trends in forest conditions and management systems. This may be accomplished by measuring or describing the indicators at regular intervals. When the successive values of any indicator are placed in a time sequence, they provide information on the direction of change, either towards or away from sustainable forest management.

Based on past experience, requests for reporting of progress towards the Year 2000 Objective in particular, and sustainable forest management in general, has been characterized by insufficient response from member countries. One would therefore expect additional measures be taken by ITTO to improve reporting based on the new set of criteria and indicators. In 1998, upon request of ITTC, an Expert Panel was assigned to produce a manual on the methods that could be used to compile data on indicators at both national and forest management unit levels. The manual has been prepared to provide guidance to member countries for compiling data on the indicators set out in the ITTO Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Management of Natural Tropical Forests. It has been issued in two parts (Part A and Part B) which respectively embodied indicators at the national and forest management unit levels. Part A and Part B are very similar to one another, but with some differences. All the indicators apply at the national level and are included in Part A, while fewer indicators apply at the level of the forest management unit. For clarity, the numbering of indicators is identical in both Parts and follows exactly the sequence in the ITTO guidelines.

Many countries will have to take a focused and phased approach to implement the set of criteria and indicators. Information on some indicators is already available in some countries; other countries may require additional resources or even conduct specific research to confirm data at the field level. There will be obviously a need to refine the criteria and indicators further in light of experience gained from development of new forestry technologies, and a better understanding of the functioning of tropical forest ecosystems as a result of extensive research. The process is therefore a continuous one towards sustainable forest management, which all are striving to achieve however difficult. As the next step, ITTO will carry out limited field-testing and verification of the manual in specific countries and situations, to be followed by training sessions at the operator level.

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