While the combined forest cover of SIDS may be insignificant in global terms, representing less than one percent of the forest area of the world, forests and trees on these islands are extremely important for the well-being of the inhabitants. For most of the larger islands, forests also contribute significantly to the national economy and to international trade in wood and non-wood forest products. In addition, forest resources on several islands are of global importance in terms of their role in the conservation of biological diversity, in particular endemic species and genetic variability.
In small islands, the percentage of endemic species is often very high. Examples include the Dominican Republic, Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica and Mauritius, in which more than 30 percent of the higher plant species are endemic. With regard to birds, Fiji and the Solomon Islands have 24 and 20 percent endemism respectively. Half of the mammal species of Mauritius, one third of those in the Solomon Islands and a quarter of those in Fiji are found nowhere else. The level of biological diversity varies to a great extend in different SIDS.
Because of the relatively small areas involved, concern for over-utilization of forest resources has not attracted much attention. Fifteen SIDS11 list timber or hardwood forests as one of their main natural resources. With regard to industrial roundwood, Papua New Guinea is, by far, the largest SIDS producer and exporter and is currently the world's third largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs with the annual trade valued at more than US$ 220 million12. Conversely, many of the smaller states in Oceania and the Indian Ocean and all the Caribbean states (except Cuba) are dependent on imports to meet all or the major part of their needs for sawn wood and wood-based panels.
In the Caribbean, the most important non-wood forest products are medicinal and aromatic plants, citronella (Cymbopogon citratus), and sassafras (Ocotea pretiosa) oil. Grenada is the world's second largest producer of essential oils derived from the seeds of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans. The heart of the manicole palm (Euterpe oleracea) is an important export product in Guyana and the principal source of income for Amerindian communities in the coastal wetlands.
The nutritional importance of dominant staple tree crops such as coconut, breadfruit, bananas and plantains, fruit and nut trees is critical to the nutritional well-being of Pacific island people.
It is estimated that there are 250 to 500 plants with curative properties in the Seychelles and the Department of Industry is currently conducting a survey and analysis of these aimed at establishing a national data bank with information on species distribution, chemical and pharmaceutical properties and ethno-botanical knowledge.
With regard to sea level rise caused by global warming, it is estimated that, by the end of the century, mean temperatures for the small islands regions may increase by around 3° Celsius, resulting in an increase in global sea level of about 50cm by 2100, thus severely threatening islands and low-lying coastal states. Global warming is also likely to lead to an increase in maximum tropical cyclone wind speeds and lower central pressures, leading to more damaging storm surges. The combined effects of increases in cyclone intensities and sea-level rise are one of the major threats to the future well-being of small island countries.
The ecosystems of SIDS are of major economic significance for subsistence and commercial agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism. FAO recognizes that demands on forest and coastal resources are endangering the long-term supply of these resources. In addition, climate variability and change and sea level rise and vulnerability to natural disasters are of particular concern. FAO supports national programmes to minimize risks from climate variability and optimize economic returns while protecting the natural resource base.
The objectives and proposed actions of the FAO Plan of Action on Agriculture in SIDS in this field are as follows:
The publication entitled "Forests and Forestry in Small Island Developing States"13 provides an overview of the many current and potential roles of forests and trees in SIDS as well as the major constraints and opportunities for the sustainable management of these resources. A medium-term outlook for the main island groups is presented, ranging from sustainable management of natural forests and plantations development in the Melanesian SIDS, agroforestry and ecotourism in Polynesia and Micronesia, forest conservation and restoration in East African SIDS to ecotourism and safeguarding of freshwater resources in the Caribbean. Several countries in the Pacific region have reviewed and amended their forestry legislation (e.g. Samoa, Fiji) whilst others have gone a step ahead and developed and put into place new legislation (e.g. Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu). FAO has provided assistance to forestry legislation in Niue, Palau, Samoa and Vanuatu and has participated in developing the Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting in Asia and the Pacific.
Forestry legislation in Vanuatu
A review of forestry legislation, policies and institutions was undertaken; a Forestry Act and its implementing regulations were produced; and the proposed legislation was debated and amended at national seminar prior to its finalization and submission to the Government. The project fulfilled its objective of producing, in a participatory way, an analysis of the forestry legislation and its related policy framework, as well as drafting a new Forestry Act together with Forestry Regulations. The Forestry Department, supported by the State Law Office, promptly implemented the project's recommendations through submission of the proposed legislation to Cabinet and then to Parliament. Within a matter of months, the Forestry Bill was enacted into law.
Recent projects in forestry and environment include:
Strengthening national capacity for forest protection
The islands of the Seychelles have barely recovered from the impact of a tree health problem affecting tree species, Takamaka (Callophyllum inophyllum) and are now faced with another potentially serious problem (wilt disease) affecting an important forest species, Pterocarpus indica. This tree is widely distributed within the water catchment areas of the main island of Mahe, and its death threatens the main island's water resource. FAO's assistance was requested to develop a control programme.
Regarding hurricanes, tornados, tropical storms and cyclones, FAO has been helping countries set up warning and information systems and advises on the use of hurricane-resistant crops and forestry methods, as well as helping agricultural systems and coastal fisheries get started again in the wake of the storm. The cycle of assistance includes prevention, preparedness planning, monitoring and early warning, assessment of impact and needs, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, as well as sustainable recovery. FAO organizes regularly impact assessment missions on tropical cyclones to different SIDS.
In 2001, FAO published an "Analysis of the medium-term effects of Hurricane Mitch on food security in Central America"14. Through the FAO supported project, "Emergency assistance for the formulation of national hurricane disaster preparedness", the Governments of the Eastern Caribbean States have come together to formulate national and regional plans to improve hurricane readiness for these sectors. As a result, each participating country (i.e. Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago) was asked to prepare a set of national reports outlining the particular situation of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors in their respective countries.
Another project, "Support to the local reconstruction initiatives and rural transformation", had invaluable positive results and the impact of the Mitch hurricane, which had dramatic consequences in Central America, was found negligible in the project area thanks to human preventive action. The importance of the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System in SIDS was emphasized during the Second International Conference on Early Warning which took place in Bonn, from 16 to 18 October 2003.
Hurricane preparedness in the Eastern Caribbean
In September 1996, the eastern Caribbean suffered the full force of hurricanes Luis and Marilyn. The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States asked FAO to send a team to assess the damage and devise projects for rehabilitation in the agricultural and fisheries sectors. Every year, this region is hit by hurricanes, tropical storms and depressions. As a result, in addition to helping the region meet immediate needs, FAO strengthens national and regional prevention and preparedness through technical assistance, equipment and training. The aim is to develop hurricane-resistant farming methods, crops and forestry techniques and to reduce the impact of hurricanes on the fishing industry.
Examples of recent projects in disaster rehabilitation include:
Pacific countries, supported by FAO, have developed a regional "Code of Conduct of Logging of Indigenous Forests in Selected South Pacific Countries" which was endorsed by the 26th South Pacific Forum meeting in September 1995. This Code is a good example of an initiative to be encouraged and replicated for sustainable development of SIDS. Another positive example is the one of agroforestry systems with coconut as the main wood resource for atolls with low soil fertility as well as for smaller states, where availability of land is a limiting factor. Good prospects also exist for diversification in terms of the provision of non-wood forest products, where niche markets are present or can be developed. Forest based tourism and recreation is on the increase, in particular eco- or nature-based tourism.
The extend to which SIDS will be able to overcome their common constraints and capitalize on existing and future opportunities for the sustainable management of their forest and tree resources depends, to a large extent, on the generation of awareness, political will and effective regional collaboration.
11 Including: Bahamas, Belize, Cuba, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Grenada, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, St. Lucia, Suriname and Vanuatu.
12 FAO, 2000. FAO Yearbook of Forest Products, 1996-2000. FAO Forestry Series n° 35.
13 FAO Forest Management Working Paper, 2002.
14 FAO Economic and Social Development Paper no. 151. FAO, 2001.