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Towards sustainable forestry

Globally, deforestation is slowing down. At the same time, the productivity of timber processing is improving, helping to meet the rising demand for wood. However, hotspots of deforestation are likely to persist, undermining biodiversity and the provision of other economic and environmental benefits from forests. The major challenge will be to improve the sustainable management of forests and to ensure equitable distribution of the benefits of forest use.

Forests and other wooded areas perform key economic and ecological functions. Not only do they provide goods and livelihoods but they also protect soils, regulate water flow and retain carbon that might otherwise add to greenhouse gases. Forests also shelter much of the world's terrestrial biodiversity.

In 2000 the world had some 3 870 million ha of forests, covering 30 percent of its land area. Tropical and subtropical forests comprised 56 percent of the forest area, while temperate and boreal forests accounted for the rest. Natural forests were estimated to constitute about 95 percent of global forests, while plantation forests constitute around 5 percent.

Altogether, 51 percent of global forests are available for wood supply. Some 12 percent of forests are in legally protected areas, while the remaining 37 percent are physically inaccessible or otherwise uneconomic for wood supply.

More than half the wood biomass consumed globally is burned as fuel. Most fuel consumption occurs in developing countries, where wood is often the primary source of energy. Asia and Africa together consume more than three-quarters of global fuelwood, mostly in domestic cooking, though cottage industries such as food drying and brick-making also consume large volumes in some countries.

Industrial roundwood currently comprises about 45 percent of global wood production. Interestingly, annual per capita wood consumption in developed and developing countries is about equal, at just over 0.5 m3 per person. However, almost 80 percent of wood consumption in developed countries is in the form of industrial wood products, while in developing countries well over 80 percent is burned as fuel.

World trade in wood does not lend itself to easy generalizations. Production and trading patterns are highly diverse, both regionally and among different commodities. In 2000, temperate and boreal zones accounted for 80 percent of world industrial roundwood production and 83 percent of roundwood exports. However, these zones also accounted for 85 percent of wood product consumption. Also in 2000, tropical areas were net exporters of wood products to the tune of around 59 million m3 per year, though this was less than 4 percent of global consumption.

From deforestation to reforestation

It is often suggested that the world faces a deforestation crisis. Certainly, in some countries the picture is alarming and a rapid decline in forest area continues. During the 1990s, the total forest area shrank by a net 9.4 million ha each year, an area about three times the size of Belgium. Over the decade as a whole, the area lost was bigger than Nigeria.

It is true that if current deforestation rates are projected into the future, then by 2030 natural tropical forests will shrink by a further 24 percent. However, deforestation was slower in the 1990s than in the 1980s and will probably continue to slow during the first decades of the new century.

During the 1990s, the area of tropical forests shrank by a net 12.3 million ha each year, but non-tropical areas actually added 2.9 million ha a year to their forests.

The picture varies considerably from region to region. Deforestation was most rapid in the tropics, where 1990s losses averaged 12.3 million ha per year. Africa lost 5.3 million ha a year and South America 3.7 million ha. In contrast, annual losses in Asia were only 0.4 million ha, while non-tropical areas actually added 2.9 million ha a year to their forests.

Net deforestation is now slowing in many developing countries. For more than a decade, countries such as China, India, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Turkey and Uruguay have planted more forest than they have cut. By 2000, other countries, such as Algeria, Bangladesh, Gambia and Viet Nam, had also begun accumulating net forest area. Some countries, for example Thailand and the Philippines, have imposed complete bans on natural forest harvesting, although these may not last and are difficult to implement. In many developing countries, population growth and dependence on agriculture will lead to continuing loss of forests. However, overall rates of deforestation will slow further in the coming decades. Social, economic and political trends will contribute to the slowdown in deforestation in developing countries. Urbanization will reduce the need to open up new frontier land to create livelihoods. It will also drive a shift from wood to fossil fuels and electricity.

This slowing is an integral part of the cycle of economic development. In the initial stages of development, rapidly growing populations are still heavily reliant on agriculture and fuelwood and some countries may depend on timber exports to generate foreign currency, with the result that deforestation may be rampant. As countries grow richer and more urbanized, the need to clear forests declines and the value placed on natural environments rises. More and more forests are protected or managed sustainably.

In developed countries, populations are growing only slowly and forest areas are mostly increasing as marginal farmland is set aside and regenerates as secondary natural forest.

Forest area as a percentage of country land area

Source: FAO (2001)

Wood products: growing demand, growing productivity

Demand for forest products will continue to grow as world population and incomes grow. The most recent FAO projections estimate that by 2030 global consumption of industrial roundwood will rise by 60 percent over current levels, to around 2 400 million m3. Substantial rises are also likely in the consumption of paper and paperboard products.

Will the world's forest resources be able to cope? Until the early 1990s, expert assessments were pessimistic, but most experts today no longer foresee a crisis in the supply of wood. Projections of wood consumption are lower now, partly because of lower world population growth. In addition, there have been improvements in forest management and in harvesting and processing technologies, increases in plantation establishment, and an expansion of the role of trees outside forests.

The production of wood-based materials is continually increasing in efficiency, reducing the pressure on forest resources. Not only is there more recycling of paper and wood. The past decade has also seen a shift from industrial roundwood and sawnwood to wood-based panels, which make much fuller use of timber. Global production of sawn timber has remained largely static since 1970, yet that of wood-based panels has more than doubled, while the production of paper and paperboard has almost tripled.

In the future, the key questions will not be whether there will be enough wood but rather where it should come from, who will produce it, and how it should be produced.

There has been a shift in the sources of wood, away from poorly regulated wild forests towards plantations and sustainably managed forests and woodlands. Industrial roundwood production from plantations is expected to double by 2030, from 400 million m3 today to around 800 million m3. Thus increased plantation supplies will meet much of the growth in demand for wood during this period. Another greatly expanded source of wood will be tree cultivation outside forests.

Changes in the conditions of trade are unlikely to be dramatic, as most significant tariff barriers have already been reduced to moderate levels or completely removed - though eco-labelling and environmental regulations will doubtless increase. However, there will be major shifts in the directions of international trade, as developing countries increase their per capita consumption of industrial wood. In some of the richer countries, per capita con-sumption is currently at least tenfold that of many developing countries.

Forest area changes (million ha), 1990 to 2000

Source: FAO (2001)

Stressing forestry's environmental services

Increasing realization of the importance of environmental values and services is helping efforts to conserve forest and tree resources. As the wider environmental services of trees are recognized, the planting or conservation of trees and forests is being fostered by development projects and programmes as a means of preventing erosion, regulating water flow and so avoiding downstream flooding, and controlling desertification or salinization. The trend towards tree and forest planting and conservation is likely to continue.

A shift in attitudes has led to a rise in the value attached to environment and nature conservation by non-governmental and development organizations. There is increasing pressure to adhere to acceptable standards of natural resource management in all efforts to stimulate economic growth and promote livelihoods for poor rural people. The emergence of democratic institutions and improved access to information are helping this process.

Shifts in consumer values, especially in the richer developed countries, have led to an increase in environmentally conscious purchasing. The spread of eco-labelling now allows consumers to choose products from sustainably managed forests.

Ecotourism is another outcome of the same shift. This is currently estimated to constitute around 7 percent of global tourism, a share that is expected to increase. Paradoxically, a high volume of ecotourists can place great pressure on sites that offer memorable experiences. Nevertheless, ecotourism can prove a valuable source of income for local communities and hence an economic incentive to conserve remaining forests.

Measures such as reduced deforestation, forest regeneration and plantation development could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 12 to 15 percent of all the emissions from fossil fuels between 1995 and 2050.

Growing concern over global warming has focused attention on the potential role of forests in regulating carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Forests store large amounts of carbon in trees, understory vegetation, litter and soil. Globally, they contain some 1 200 billion tonnes of carbon, just over half the total in all terrestrial vegetation and soils.

New forests, or degraded forests that are allowed to regenerate, absorb and store carbon as they grow. Conversely, when they are cleared or degraded, forests can become a substantial source of carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), measures such as reduced deforestation, forest regeneration and plantation development could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 12 to 15 percent of all emissions from fossil fuels between 1995 and 2050. However, it is not yet clear to what extent this potential will be reflected in formal international agreements on climate change.

Sustainable forest management

The set of principles and practices known as sustainable forest management (SFM) is increasingly accepted as the core paradigm for forestry development. SFM implies broadening the focus of management from wood production to include more emphasis on equitable and participatory development and on environmental considerations.

If forest development is inequitable, the poor who are excluded from it will continue to depend on land and forest resources, but will exert greater pressure on the remaining areas to which they have access and may encroach illegally on protected areas or those allocated to large-scale enterprises. Hence an important aspect of SFM is its emphasis on providing sustainable livelihoods for the estimated 350 million of the world's poorest and most marginalized people who depend on forest ecosystems.

Non-wood forest products (NWFPs), such as wild foods, plants and medicinal herbs, are crucial to this vulnerable group. The majority are subsistence goods or are traded only in local markets. However, an estimated 150 NWFPs are traded internationally. While dependence on many subsistence products may decline, increasing demand for ethnic foods and medicines may lead to the more systematic cultivation of some NWFPs. Access to knowledge and techno-logy will be critical if local communities are to benefit from this trend.

Under the participatory development associated with SFM, the primary responsibility of forestry departments will shift from management to policy development and regulatory functions. Responsibility for management will pass largely to the private sector, including farmers and local communities.

The environmental goals of SFM will include increasing the area of protected forest and reversing the loss of biomass, soil fertility and biodiversity that occurs when forests are degraded. Unsustainable forestry practices will be discouraged and logging techniques that reduce negative impacts on the forest as a whole will be encouraged. Improved security of land and tree tenure will encourage tree planting, both inside and outside forests.

There has been progress towards the wider adoption of SFM, though that progress has been uneven. At one end of the spectrum, forest management is carefully monitored against agreed social and environmental criteria. At the other, substantial tracts of (mainly tropical) forests are still managed poorly or not at all, leaving them vulnerable to careless or unscrupulous degradation.

Advances in remote sensing and in data processing and exchange will make it easier for national and international bodies to monitor forest management practices. But if SFM is to succeed, it will be crucial to strengthen the developing world's forestry institutions, which are still severely under-resourced.

Some non-wood forest products

End use

Typical products

Food products and additives

Wild meat, edible nuts, fruits, honey, bamboo shoots, birds' nests, oil seeds, mushrooms, palm sugar and starch, spices, culinary herbs, food colorants, gums, caterpillars and insects, fungi

Ornamental plants

Wild orchids, bulbs, cycads, palms, tree ferns, succulent plants, carnivorous plants

Animals and animal products

Plumes, pelts, cage birds, butterflies, lac, cochineal dye, cocoons, beeswax, snake venom

Construction materials

Bamboo, rattan, grass, palm, leaves, bark fibres

Organic chemicals

Phytopharmaceuticals, aromatic chemicals and flavours, fragrances, agrochemicals/insecticides, biodiesel, tans, colours, dyes

Source: FAO data


The role of forests in protecting biodiversity

Increasingly, biodiversity is seen not just as a source of genetic material, medicines or other commercial products but as having value in itself. It has been estimated that forests, especially tropical rainforests, harbour as much as half the world's biodiversity.

Globally, more than 30 000 protected areas have been established. The goal of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) is that 10 percent of each country's land area should be under some form of protection. At present, some 80 countries have attained this level, but around 100 countries still have less than 5 percent.

The World Conservation Monitoring Centre estimates that only 6.4 percent of the area of forest biomes is under some form of protection at present - and as little as 3.6 percent in the case of temperate broad-leaf forests. These shortfalls reflect the uneven distribution of forest ecosystems among countries, in addition to an overall failure to meet the IUCN goal.

Almost 9 percent of tropical rainforests are protected, but in many developing countries this protection is only nominal. These forests continue to suffer serious encroachments, including logging, deliberate burning, poaching and other forms of clearing or degradation.

The prospects for future expansion of protected areas are more modest than in the recent past. In many countries where conservation efforts fall below the IUCN goal, there are already intense pressures on these areas and strong conflicts between economic and environmental objectives. During the next 30 years the total land area under strict protection will increase only moderately. Other means must be found to conserve biodiversity, including the on-farm production and conservation of trees and the conservation of germplasm in genebanks. Larger areas could also be placed under SFM, which affords conservation high priority as a management objective.

World fisheries: a choice of futures

The marine fisheries catch levelled off during the 1990s. Aquaculture grew rapidly, allowing continued growth in total fish production. With many marine stocks now fully exploited or overexploited, future fish supplies are likely to be constrained by resource limits. Achieving effective governance of world fisheries is crucial.

Fisheries play an important role in the world food economy. Worldwide, more than 30 million fishers and fish farmers and their families gain their livelihoods from fisheries. Most of them are poor artisanal fisher families in developing countries.

Globally, fish provide about 16 percent of the animal protein consumed by humans, and are a valuable source of minerals and essential fatty acids. Ocean and freshwater fish are also an increasingly important recreational resource, both for active users such as anglers and for passive users such as tourists, sports divers and nature-lovers.

As marine capture fisheries level off, aquaculture expands

Over the past three decades world production of fish has more than kept pace with human population growth, with the result that the amount of fish available per person has increased. The recent stagnation of capture fisheries has been balanced by the rapid build-up of aquaculture.

Total annual fish production almost doubled between 1970 and 1999, from 65 million tonnes to 125 million tonnes. This rise was the outcome of two contrasting trends: growth in capture fisheries followed by a levelling off in the 1990s, and dramatic growth in aquaculture during the 1990s.

Since the1950s, increases in marine capture levels have been made possible by advances in fishing technology and efficiency, including synthetic fibres for fishing gear, on-board freezing, electronic fish finding and improved navigation. However, as more and more fishery areas and fish stocks reached full utilization or were overfished, the growth of marine catches began to flatten out. During the 1990s, marine catches fluctuated between 80 and 85 million tonnes per year, despite the discovery of new stocks.

Catches in inland waters, however, continued to grow moderately, from 6.4 million tonnes per year in 1990 to 8.2 million tonnes in 1999 - though the true inland total may be much higher, as produce is often bartered, sold or consumed locally without being formally recorded.

What made possible the continuing rise in overall fish production was the rapid growth of aquaculture, which expanded by 10 percent per year during the 1990s. The share of aqua-culture in world fish production doubled over the decade, reaching 26 percent in 1999.

The continuing rise in overall fish production was made possible by the growth of aquaculture at 10 percent per year during the 1990s. The contribution of aquaculture to world fish production doubled over the decade, reaching 26 percent in 1999.

So far, aquaculture has been heavily concentrated in Asia, which provided 89 percent of world production in 1999. A growing diversity of species is now cultured. Until the mid-twentieth century the range was limited to oysters, mussels, carps, trouts and shrimps. However, since the 1950s scientists have gradually solved the problem of artificial reproduction for different carps, salmonids and other species.

The overall increase in fish production has been paralleled by a steady growth in consumption. Fish now account for an average of 30 percent of the animal protein consumed in Asia, approximately 20 percent in Africa and around 10 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. By 1999 global average intake of fish, crustaceans and molluscs reached 16.3 kg per person, an increase of more than 70 percent over the 1961-63 level.

Fisheries are also a significant source of livelihoods. In developed countries, employment in fishing has declined due to improvements in productivity and the collapse of some important fisheries. In contrast, in developing countries fisheries employment has continued to expand. Over 90 percent of the people fully employed in the fisheries sector in the early 1990s were in the developing or transition economies.

Nearly 40 percent of all fish production is now internationally traded. As a result, fisheries are increasingly seen as a powerful means of generating hard currency. Developing countries' gross earnings from fish exports have grown rapidly, from US$5.2 billion in 1985 to US$15.6 billion in 1999, a level that far exceeds earnings from commodities such as coffee, cocoa, banana or rubber.

Fish consumption may be constrained by resource limits

Fish consumption per person is expected to continue to rise. If it were to be determined solely by income growth and dietary changes, average intake could reach as high as 22.5 kg per person by 2030. Combined with population growth, this would imply a total annual demand for fish of 186 million tonnes by 2030 - almost double the present level. However, since supply will probably be limited by environmental factors, a more likely range for demand is 150 to 160 million tonnes, or between 19 and 20 kg per person.

The regional picture will be very diverse. Health and diet quality concerns will boost consumption in North America, Europe and Oceania, but slow population growth will mean slow increase in overall demand.

In sub-Saharan Africa and the Near East and North Africa, fish consumption per person may stagnate or even decline, despite current low levels. In Africa, local wild stocks are almost fully exploited and, except in Egypt, aquaculture has barely begun. Per capita demand in South Asia, Latin America and China may increase only gradually, while in the rest of East Asia it will almost double, reaching 40 kg by 2030. Asian aquaculturists should be able to increase production, and any remaining shortfall can be met by imports.

There is a growing trend to market fish fresh for human consumption. This is because the costs of delivering fresh fish to markets are falling and consumers are willing to pay a premium for this product. Demand for fish meal and fish oil will continue to grow rapidly. These products are used for livestock and aquaculture feeds, and at present account for about a quarter of world fish production. So far the raw material for fish meal and oil has been supplied by capture fisheries, and in all likelihood this will continue. However, the competition for small surface fish will become more intense, and the fish meal and oil industry will need to exploit other raw materials, such as mesopleagic fish and krill. Rising prices will also drive a switch to substitute feeds. However, a satisfactory replacement for fish oil has not yet been found.

Fish consumption by region, 1961-63 and 1997-99

Source: FAO data

Aquaculture and marine ranching will continue to expand

Over the next three decades, the world's fisheries will meet demand by continuing the same shift from fish capture to fish cultivation that gained momentum in the 1990s.

The share of capture fisheries in world production will continue to decline. The maxi-mum sustainable marine production has been estimated at around 100 million tonnes a year. However, this is higher than the annual catches of 80 to 85 million tonnes achieved during the 1990s, and assumes that large quantities of hitherto underexploited aquatic resources will be used, including krill, mesopelagic fish and oceanic squids. As in the 1990s, most of the shortfall will be made up by aquaculture, which will probably continue to grow at rates of 5 to 7 percent a year, at least until 2015.

The maximum sustainable marine production is estimated at around 100 million tonnes a year, compared to annual catches of 80 to 85 million tonnes in the 1990s. But the estimate assumes that large quantities of hitherto underexploited resources will be used, including krill and oceanic squids.

Aquaculture species will be improved. Traditional breeding, chromosome manipulation and hybridization have already made significant contributions. In future the use of new technologies, such as genetic modification, can be expected. Already, a gene that codes for an anti-freeze protein in the Arctic flounder has been transferred to Atlantic salmon to increase its tolerance of cold waters. Currently, however, no commercial aquaculture producer is marketing such transgenic species for human consumption. If this field is to progress, public concerns about GM organisms will need to be addressed through risk assessments and the development of policy guidelines for responsible use.

Additional species will be domesticated for aquaculture. For halibut, cod and tuna, which have been fished in high volumes in capture fisheries, aquaculture production could eventually be high. If commercially viable technology is developed soon, by 2015 the cultured production of cod could reach 1 to 2 million tonnes per year.

Environmental concerns will probably shift the focus of aquaculture away from coastal zones into more intensive inland systems. Marine ranching will also expand, though its long-term future will depend on solutions to the problems of ownership surrounding released animals. At present, only Japan is engaged in sea ranching on a large scale.

Social and political pressure will also drive efforts to reduce the impact of capture fisheries, for example by making use of the unwanted catch of non-target species and by using more selective fishing gear and practices. Increasing use of eco-labels will enable consumers to choose sustainably harvested fish products, a trend which will encourage environmentally sensitive approaches in the industry.

Towards sustainable fisheries

The single most important influence on the future of wild capture fisheries is their governance. Although in theory renewable, wild fishery resources are in practice finite for production purposes. If they are overexploited, production declines and may even collapse.

Resources must therefore be harvested at sustainable levels. In addition, access must be equitably shared among producers. As fish resources grow increasingly scarce, conflicts over access are becoming more frequent.

The principal policy challenge is to bring the capacity of the global fishing fleet back to a level at which fish stocks can be harvested sustainably. Past policies have promoted the build-up of excess capacity and incited fishermen to increase the catch beyond sustainable levels. Policy makers must act fast to reverse this situation.

There are numerous measures that could encourage sustainable use and remove the perverse incentives to overfish. Fisheries based on clearly defined rights of access will need to become more common: experience shows that when these rights are not merely in place but are understood and observed by users, conflicts tend to be minimized.

State of the world's fishery stocks, 1998

Source: FAO data

Laws and institutions need to be established or strengthened to limit and control access to marine fish stocks, both by larger ocean-going vessels and by local artisanal fishers. Increasingly, the responsibility for managing fisheries will have to be devolved to fishing interests and other stakeholder groups. Traditional arrangements in fishing communities can be incorporated into new management regimes. However, the need to control entry into artisanal fisheries will become more pressing. Indeed, if this issue is not tackled, a large number of fisher households may be forced out of fishery and, unless there are alternative livelihoods, into poverty.

If the world's fisheries are to achieve their full potential, the major policy and management challenges must be met, and the cultural and social concerns of all stakeholder groups must be addressed. These are enormous challenges, yet they are not insurmountable.

The changing ecology of the oceans

Biodiversity comprises four main elements: variability within species, among species, among ecosystems and among larger ecological complexes. It is a key ingredient of sustainable fisheries in the future.

Altogether, over 1 100 species of fish, mollusc and crustacean are taken in capture fisheries, while over 300 species are used in aquaculture. Biodiversity in wild populations allows adaptation to the changing environment, while in farmed fish it allows continued breed improvement.

Human fishing activities have had a powerful impact on aquatic biodiversity. The current high level of impact may limit capture fishing in future, unless the governance and management of ocean and freshwater resources are greatly improved.

Damage is done by several unsustainable fishing practices. These include: the use of poison and dynamite near coral reefs; non-selective fishing gears that capture marine mammals, unwanted species or fish that are too small; and bottom trawling, which disturbs the ecology of the ocean floor.

Perhaps the major ecological impact stems from the sheer extent of human fishing. Many fishing areas and stocks are fished up to or beyond the sustainable limit, while fishing pressure appears to have altered the distribution and size of some fish.

The overall impact on ocean ecology is only sketchily known, but appears to be significant. Statistics on fish landings suggest that there has been a reduction in the numbers of larger predatory fish, shifting the balance of catches towards fish that eat lower down the food chain. As high-value species such as bottom-dwellers or large surface fish such as tuna are overfished, they are gradually replaced by shorter-lived and smaller surface-dwelling and schooling fish. Numbers of smaller fish are also boosted in some areas by increased plankton production.

By 1998, some 12 out of the FAO's 16 world fishing regions had production levels at or below their historical maximum. Indeed, the Antarctic, the Southeast and Northwest Atlantic and the Southeast Pacific had fallen below half their maximum past production levels.

In terms of stocks of main species, FAO estimates suggest that, by the end of the 1990s, only a quarter of stocks were moderately exploited or underexploited and 1 percent were recovering. Nearly half of all stocks were exploited up to their maximum sustainable yield and were thus potentially on the brink of being overexploited. More than a quarter of stocks were overfished or depleted.

Such developments have raised concern among environmentalists and other stakeholder groups. In response, fishery administrations are working to minimize or mitigate the negative impacts on genetic and biological diversity. Measures include the development and use of selective fishing gears that reduce the capture of marine mammals, undersized target species and unwanted bycatch, direct controls on the total catch allowed of various species and, in some cases, outright fishing bans and moratoriums.

Unfortunately, inappropriate fishing and aquaculture activities are only one of the threats to aquatic biodiversity. Additional threats include pollution, loss of habitat and habitat degradation. Such threats often combine to aggravate pressure on biodiversity. The whole range of threats must be addressed if aquatic biodiversity is to be protected.

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