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One of the most noteworthy results of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), as far as forestry is concerned, was its emphasis on sustainable forest resource management and the many initiatives taken to define criteria and indicators for it. While sustainable forest resource management in dry tropical zones tends to be overshadowed by the massive media coverage accorded to the problems of the tropical moist forests, it has not been ignored in this debate or in these initiatives. The ‘Forest Principles’ adopted by UNCED emphasize all types of forests (Non-legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests).

The initiative by FAO and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to take stock of the current state of natural forest conservation and management in the dry tropical zones forms part of this general movement. This movement acknowledges that every natural stand has an economic and social role to play and therefore implies the need to learn sustainable management techniques. The socio-economic importance of dry tropical forests is enormous in terms of meeting energy requirements, producing the bulk of wood resources in the countries concerned, fodder production (an essential strategic function), and the direct production of food for the poorest members of society. They also fulfil a number of ecological functions for the conservation of land resources and biological diversity. They therefore amply deserve the attention being paid to them.

The purpose of this initiative was also to identify decisions and operational instructions based on past experience to foster development, indicate ways of research and action, and rationalise educational decisions. This study, which has been welcomed by all those involved in the conservation, management and sustainable development of these types of forests, is the result of wide-ranging co-operation involving the following institutions; in particular: SIDA, which financed it through its Trust Fund held with FAO; the Forestry Department of the Swedish University of Agronomic Sciences, which took part in researching and analysing the documentation on part of Latin America and East Africa; CIRAD-Forêt, which is the principal author and has contributed much of the documentation on experience not only in West Africa but also in other parts of the world; lastly, numerous consultants in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Asia, where the Institut Français de Pondichéry has documented some of the experiments carried out in the vast Indian subcontinent. Mr El-Hadji Sène, Chief of the Forestry Research, Education and Training Service, Forestry Resources Division of the FAO Forestry Department, designed this project and co-ordinated its implementation.

By involving so many people and institutions, it has been possible to collect as much information as possible to better record existing expertise, experience, know-how and trends in dry tropical zone forest management. It must be recognized that Africa, which possesses 50 percent of these forests, has been given particular attention in this study and most of the documentation available comes from Africa despite all the efforts made by the participants to deal with the dry tropical regions of America and Asia.

The results of this first study are quite encouraging and mark the beginning of a regular monitoring of ongoing activities in order to improve our understanding and management of natural forest resources in dry tropical zones.

It is my conviction that this work will be consulted by many specialists and practitioners in the field of forest resource management and conservation in the countries concerned. It is also my belief that it will eventually be completed and improved in the future. This task must be pursued and the work must move forward, and future editions will take account of all the inputs received from readers. Particular efforts will be made to identify, localize and process the mass of reports and minutes of workshops and seminars on the sustainable development, conservation and management of natural forest stands in dry tropical zones (in a databank of ‘grey’ - namely unpublished - literature).

El-Hadji Sène
Forest Resources Division,
Forestry Department

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