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Rome, Italy 4–6 December 1989


The FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources was established in accordance with the directives of the Fourteenth Session of the FAO Conference (November 1967), which read as follows:

“244. Forest Tree Genetic Resources. The Conference requested the Director-General to take into account Recommendation No. 62 of document C 67/AG/FO/1 in formulating the Programme of Work and Budget for 1970–1971. It recognized that, as development proceeds in the less as in the more advanced areas of the world, the reserves of genetic variation stored in the natural forests have been or are being displaced on an increasing scale. Moreover, efforts to explore and collect forest genetic resources were, on a world scale, inadequate and inadequately concerted.

245. The Conference requested the Director-General to establish a panel of experts on Forest Gene Resources to help plan and coordinate FAO's efforts to explore, utilize and conserve the gene resources of forest trees and, in particular, help prepare a detailed short-term programme and draft a long-term programme for FAO's action in this field and to provide information to Member Governments.”

The Director-General established the Panel in 1968. A list of current members of the Panel appears in Appendix 1.

The Panel held its First session in Rome in October 1968, its Second in Macon, GA (USA) in March 1971, its Third in Rome in May 1974, its Fourth in Canberra (Australia) in March 1977, its Fifth in Rome in December 1981, and its Sixth in Rome in December 1985. Reports of these sessions have been published (FAO, Rome 1969, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1984, 1988).

The Seventh Session of the Panel was held in Rome, Italy from 4 to 6 December 1989. Members attending were:

R. Morandini(Chairman; Italy *)
F. Patiño V.(Mexico)
R.D. Barnes(U.K.)
B.A. Ditlevsen(Denmark)
P.D. Dogra(India)
J.C. Doran(Australia) 1
M. Hagman(Finland)
P.Y. Kageyama(Brazil)
G. Namkoong(USA)
F. Ng(Malaysia)
A.S. Ouedraogo(Burkina Faso)
Pan Zhigang(China)
O. Souvannavong(France)
J.M. Wanyancha(Zimbabwe)
H. Zedan (UNEP) attended in observer capacity.

C. Palmberg, Chief, Forest Resources Development Branch (FORM) acted as Secretary of the Panel, assisted by C. Cossalter, Forestry Officer (Genetic Resources) and F. Bach (APO, Plantation Forestry), FORM. Mr. J.P. Lanly, Director, Forest Resources Division, attended parts of the session. J.T. Esquinas A. and N. Murthi Anishetty from the Plant Production and Protection Division of FAO; J. Hodges and A.W. Qureshi from the Animal Production and Health Division; and L.M. Bombin from the Legal Office, also attended, part-time. Mr. Esquinas made a brief presentation on the recent developments within FAO's Global System on Plant Genetic Resources (the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, the International Undertaking on PGR and the International Fund on PGR).

The Panel unanimously elected Professor R. Morandini Chairman and Mr. F. Patiño V. Vice-Chairman. The Agenda adopted appears in Appendix 2.

A list of Secretariat Notes discussed by the Panel, is given in Appendix 3. In addition, each Panel member made a brief presentation and submitted information on the region or sub-region covered by him, thus supplementing the information given in the Secretariat notes on the present state of forest genetic resources in the world, programmes, priorities and desirable action.

(* represented also IUFRO)

1 Substituting J.W. Turnbull (Australia), forced to last-minute cancellation of attendance.


1. The Panel noted that from having been a limited field of concern in plantation forestry, referring mainly to their role in the provision and improvement of reproductive materials, awareness had over the past decade greatly increased of the value of forest genetic resources as a cornerstone for sustainable development. The conservation of forest genetic resources was closely linked to fields such as forest and protected area management, as well as to plantation forestry, tree improvement, and the provision of raw materials for new technologies in a range of disciplines.

2. Forests and woodlands contained not only woody species but, especially in the moist and seasonal tropics, a wealth of other species of plants and animals. The genetic variation found in such frequently under-utilized components of the ecosystems played a vital role in buffering species in the wild against environmental changes, and were furthermore necessary to ensure the adaptation to changing environmental conditions and socio-economic needs of domesticated plants.

3. Increased awareness of the functions and needs of conservation had greatly expanded its importance and scope in forestry and related fields of sustainable development, falling under the mandate of the present Panel and being handled by the corresponding technical unit in FAO. The Panel therefore requested that this substantial expansion of responsibilities be duly acknowledged in the overall allocation of resources channelled towards meeting the multiple and diverse tasks presently gathered together under the common denomination of “forest genetic resources” in the Forestry Department of FAO.

4. The Panel recognized the compliance of the Secretariat with its earlier recommendations for a slight bias of action and use of funds, ecologically, towards programmes related to dry tropical zones (⅔ of available funding); and, technically, towards exploration, seed collection, evaluation and breeding. In view of developments since the last session of the Panel 4 years ago, it now requested FAO to strike an equal balance in the coming years in attention and funding for arid and humid zones on the one hand, and conservation and other genetic resources activities on the other; special attention should be laid on the development of methodologies and pilot activities in in situ conservation. Although multipurpose, local species should continue to play a predominant role in FAO's activities, due attention also needed to be given to timber and wood-producing species which played an important role in national economies in developing countries but which, at present, were often biologically little-known, over-utilized and inadequately managed. In addition, plantation species used as exotics in a range of countries, needed continued attention especially as regards provenance testing and the provision of genetic materials for the local establishment of populations possessing adequate genetic bases to satisfy the needs for large-scale planting and breeding in their new environments.

5. While recognizing the usefulness and relative representativeness of the global list of priority species by type of species and operational priority elaborated over the years, the Panel recognized that knowledge on species, their value and status was rapidly increasing. It was also noted that priorities were closely related to prevailing development needs and programmes in countries concerned, and that national as well as global priorities were dynamically changing and shifting over time, as a reflection of biological as well as man-made factors. It was therefore felt that there was a need to update this global list systematically and on a more frequent basis. Each member of the Panel agreed to intensify his efforts to gain information from a range of countries and institutes in the subregion/region covered by him and inform the Secretariat of the situation on a yearly basis, during his 3-year term of office. Special attention was to be paid to the coherence and logic of the priority ratings by (i) end use; and (ii) operation, which jointly assisted in pinpointing status, characteristics and needs in action and research.

6. It was repeatedly stressed that the list aimed at drawing the attention to those species of regional or global socio-economic value which merited priority attention by FAO and institutes working in close collaboration with it. Ideally, this list should be complemented by national and, in some cases, local lists of species in need of attention in the various operational fields, ranging from exploration and conservation to breeding and large-scale use. The present list was complemented by lists such as those already contained in IUCN's Red Data Books (rare, vulnerable and endangered species); and could potentially be further complemented by listings of species used, and/or in demand, in countries outside of their area of natural distribution. Ecologically vulnerable and/or inadequately known ecosystems, such as e.g. mangrove and riverine forests, needed attention at a different technical level than that indicated in the priority list by species and operation, the first step in many cases being ecosystem conservation coupled with vigorous research.

7. The Panel recommended that the list on forest genetic resources elaborated by it, be submitted to the Secretariat of the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, as an input to the periodic review of the state of the world's plant genetic resources, requested by that Commission; other types of lists mentioned above, available to the Panel members, could also contribute to this recurring review.

8. The Panel recognized the important role of FAO in catalyzing action in the forest genetic resources field and in providing moral and financial support to activities of regional or global interest, and noted with satisfaction the efforts made especially in the African region to establish and equip national seed centres and to help strengthen contacts between such centres through networking and overall coordination by FAO, in collaboration with countries and a range of donor agencies. It stressed the important role FAO could play in harmonizing and coordinating such donor initiatives, thus helping to avoid duplication of effort and wastage of badly needed resources. It underlined the need for coordination of efforts within countries in different, development-oriented fields and disciplines, and recommended that full advantage be taken of the mechanisms afforded by the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) in helping to ensure that efforts in the field of forest genetic resources were adequately coordinated and fully integrated in national development plans, at the highest level. The Panel further stressed that the TFAP could be used for setting concrete, national targets in the use and distribution of land, and the management and development of existing renewable natural resources, including forest genetic resources.

9. The Panel recognized that FAO had, over the past years, developed a number of “models” for implementation of programmes in the forest genetic resources field, including the FAO forest genetic resources project covering 17 Sudano-Sahelian countries in Africa, which was based on priorities expressed by the countries and conceptualized in collaboration with IUFRO's Special Programme for Developing Countries plus a number of bilateral donors; and the FAO/UNEP project on in situ conservation of forest genetic resources, involving the establishment of pilot in situ areas in three continents, plus supporting research programmes in two additional countries. These “models” had proved successful and could, in principle, be translated into similar action in other ecological and geographic regions. The Panel recommended that vigorous efforts be made to translate information and knowledge gained over the past years into action and field programmes, through support to and collaboration with national (and, where applicable, sub-regional/regional) organizations.

10. The Panel noted that its earlier recommendation regarding a survey of the FAO/UNEP ex situ pilot conservation stands established in a range of countries in the 1970's had not been carried out because of a lack of resources. In view of the fact that this strategy had been widely adopted for species of proven value in use in plantation and tree planting schemes, it reiterated its earlier recommendation; and further requested FAO to assemble together, for easy access, technical information published in a number of FAO documents and elsewhere, on the establishment and management of ex situ conservation stands, complemented by information on new technologies which could be used to streamline and help speed up procedures and action in this field.

11. The Panel noted that the conservation of genetic resources was subject to appropriate gene management. While protected areas could and should play an important role within a strategy of in situ conservation, as one of the components of an in situ conservation network, in situ conservation should also be an integral part of the management of forests for other purposes, including the production of wood and non-wood forest products. Stressing the complementarity of in situ and ex situ conservation strategies, the Panel stressed that, similarly, ex situ conservation should be closely integrated with, and form a part of, tree breeding strategies developed to meet short, medium and long term needs.

12. While underlining urgency of action, the Panel cautioned against pitfalls and shortcuts used in some quarters, e.g. extrapolating findings from studies on the effects of habitat fragmentation on bird and mammal populations, to plants and forest trees, which were likely to respond differently due to differing genetic and biological systems. Specific studies on methodologies targeting these latter components of the ecosystem were thus necessary and an urgent need. It requested FAO to continue to collaborate in national and international efforts to develop practical methodologies to define, assess, evaluate and manage biodiversity, and to play a prominent role in such work.

13. Although the principles of a step-by-step approach to tree improvement were still valid, FAO should assist in disseminating information on ways of telescoping such steps and of drawing maximum benefit from each component activity in the shortest possible time, however, without jeopardizing the reliability of results and scientific soundness of approach.

14. The Panel recommended that due attention be paid to dissemination of information and promotion of scientifically solid schemes of rapid breeding and characterization of the genetic resources present in the trees and other forest plants and animals, with a view to advancing the utilization of these resources to meet immediate-term national needs (e.g. through support to meetings, national breeding programmes and pilot projects); such action would help draw the attention of decision makers to the fact that genetic resource conservation would provide short-term as well as medium and long-term benefits, at local/national as well as on a global scale.

15. While recommending that FAO continue to closely follow and report on technical and scientific findings in new biotechnologies related, or potentially applicable, to forest genetic resources work, the Panel stressed that biotechnologies were a tool to be used within the framework of well-focused, local breeding strategies, rather than being an end in themself. Although it was essential that developing countries keep abreast with such new technologies, the Panel strongly felt that they should not unduly detract funding and resources from more basic programmes of selection and breeding, but that efforts in biotechnologies be put in direct relation to such activities.

16. The Panel warmly welcomed the plans of FAO to review the elements which could be used to assess the socio-economic value of genetic resources and biodiversity. In such a review, due consideration needed to be given to the fact that absolute and relative value scales will differ, being location-specific and reflecting prevailing social and economic conditions and trends at any given moment. Furthermore, allowance would have to be made for the fact that the conservation of genetic resources was compatible with their wise use, these resources being a renewable asset, which presently was frequently used in a non-renewable and therefore destructive way.

17. The Panel noted with satisfaction the increased attention which had been given over the past few years by national governments, international agencies and donors to tropical forestry research. It welcomed information on the new post in forestry research being established by FAO's Regular Programme in 1990. It repeatedly stressed the need to help strengthen national research institutions, to allow such institutes to better absorb, adapt and implement new knowledge; and to carry out research focused on identified needs, on site, within the appropriate socio-economic framework. It recognized the need for integrated research programmes, involving scientists from a range of disciplines in confronting such fundamentally important issues as taxonomy, variation, variation patterns, breeding systems and reproductive biology of species in tropical and sub-tropical regions; and the importance of increased information flow between research institutes both within and between regions, which FAO should continue to help catalyze and facilitate in collaboration with agencies such as IUFRO and IUFRO's Special Programme for Developing Countries.

18. The Panel recognized the need to harmonize methodologies of collection, evaluation and documentation of forest genetic resources and to help unify terminology in these fields, as well as in related activities concerned with seed trade and exchange. It recommended that FAO continue to work in these fields on regional and international levels, with due attention to ongoing efforts by agencies such as IUFRO, OECD, EEC; and to continue to publish well-focused, technical manuals and guides in support of such work.

19. The Panel acknowledged the valuable role FAO played in facilitating the exchange of forest reproductive materials, and in providing information, at request, on suppliers of seed of given species.

20. Recognizing the fact that a number of lists of seed suppliers existed covering groups of species (e.g. agroforestry species, N-fixing tree species), and/or specific countries and regions, it recommended that an up-to-date register of such catalogues and information be kept by FAO, and that corresponding information be communicated to interested countries, institutes and scientists on a regular basis. It requested FAO to continue to facilitate and/or help establish contacts between countries wishing to exchange forest reproductive materials; and to collaborate with and assist national and regional institutes in collecting and making available for international use, seed for research and conservation purposes. It further requested FAO to take the lead in making available for use in developing countries, optional but compatible software packages for seed centres, and to help raise awareness of the need for information on origin, provenance and genetic base to flow not only into and out of the seed banks, but also throughout the chain of activities, from nurseries to plantation establishment and management.

21. The Panel recognized that many of the principles and problems stressed in the study on seed storage carried out by FAO and published in the Report of the 5th Session of the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources held in 1981, were still valid. It noted that a difference in approach and conclusions must be made between short/medium-term storage aimed at facilitating easy access to, and use of, forest reproductive materials; and possible use of seed storage as a genetic conservation strategy, frequently necessary as an emergency measure but, in practice, generally practicable for forestry species in the medium term only. It recommended that FAO review the study, with due consideration to the usefulness for the above two (but mainly the latter) purposes, for a range of different groups of species (conifers, hardwoods; pioneer species, secondary species; species with orthodox, recalcitrant seeds, etc.); and that this study be complemented by an up-to-date review of other methodologies of ex situ conservation for forestry species (e.g. new findings in the field of conservation as pollen or tissue).

22. The Panel noted that the last general tree improvement training course, organized by FAO in collaboration with DANIDA as part of a series of courses, had been held in 1980. While recognizing that general, regional or global courses were administratively heavy and costly, the Panel recommended that FAO give due attention to well-focused training activities; and that it continue to closely collaborate with institutes such as IUFRO and IUFRO/SPDC as well as with national and regional/sub-regional institutes in this field.

23. The Panel warmly welcomed the positive trend in FAO over recent years to increase available information especially in the field of in situ conservation of plant genetic resources; and the fact that this information was being made available through documents targeted for scientific, technical and policy-making levels. It welcomed the plans to update and expand the 1984 Guide on in situ Conservation of Tropical Woody Species, and stressed the need to include also in the updated version, examples and case studies of systems such as the Virgin Jungle Reserves of Peninsular Malaysia, and the FAO/UNEP in situ pilot areas in Cameroon, Malaysia and Peru.

24. The Panel recommended that high priority be given also in the future to the dissemination of information and the facilitation of exchange of know-how and genetic materials not only between countries within each region, but also between regions, among countries with similar ecological zones and/or socioeconomic conditions and needs. In this respect, it underlined the special usefulness of the annual newsletter “Forest Genetic Resources Information” (FGRI) which was considered an important source of information as well as a useful vehicle for exchange of views and new knowledge. It recommended that maximum attention be paid to timely publication and rapid distribution of FGRI.

25. In closing, the members of the Panel expressed appreciation for the chance given to them to meet and discuss technical and scientific issues related to forest genetic resources, and agreed to further intensify their work within the framework of the Panel, individually as well as collectively. Special attention was to be given by each Panel member to strengthening contacts with a range of institutes within his own country, as well as with institutes in other countries in the region or subregion covered by him; regular feedback was to be provided to the FAO Secretariat and the other members of the Panel.

26. In view of the above, the Panel stressed the need to formalize and intensify contacts and the exchange of information with the Secretariat and between individual members, throughout the whole period of the 3-year mandate of Panel members. Information and brief notes from members could be widely disseminated and communicated to FAO member nations, on a regular basis, through the annual newsletter, Forest Genetic Resources Information, where a few pages of each issue could be dedicated to such news items of global interest; as well as through the section “The World of Forestry” of Unasylva, which was resuming publication in 1990. The Panel would, thus, serve as a continuing, additional link in the forest genetic resources area between the Secretariat and the field, and as a source of information on new government policies and programmes affecting technical and scientific work.

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