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1. Options for future action

Participants discussed two proposals presented by Panel members.

On one hand, the Panel considered a discussion paper on the relevance and feasibility of a global assessment of forest tree genetic diversity. Participants discussed the proposal, rationale, objectives, and operational implications. They unanimously agreed that the lack of global picture on the status and trends of forest genetic diversity, and the lack of estimators of the rate of genetic diversity loss, were limiting factors in decision-making at international, national and institutional levels. The discussions highlighted the need to develop, or upgrade, global datasets, strategic analysis and outlook studies for the sector. A cross-cutting, intersectoral approach was found necessary, in the light of the range of driving forces influencing genetic forest resources.

The global evaluation proposal was found in line with FAO’s mandate and strategic plans, and highly relevant to the work of an organization perceived as a honest broker of high-standard, neutral and balanced information. Panel members stressed the need for innovative partnerships to take advantage of other on-going global assessment processes. It was agreed that a global forest genetic evaluation should constitute a long-term objective and rolling process, rather than a short-term set of disconnected activities. The strategic objective should be combined with a pragmatic, step-by-step implementation, using top-down and bottom-up approaches as appropriate, combined with specialized thematic case studies.

It was pointed out that the present FAO work programme on forest genetic resources already contains several elements of the proposed global assessment. Several new activities would be linked to, or carried out in collaboration with, other units within and outside the Organization. The conceptual framework would provide the necessary visibility of the FAO forest genetic resources programme and ensure overall consistency of operations. Panel members identified a number of technical issues that should be solved beforehand, including the identification and validation of measurable forest genetic parameters, the identification of values attached to the use of trees and agreements on priority-setting methodologies. They suggested to further exploring these issues through a number of thematic case studies. Several members emphasized the need for FAO to define a strategy on forest genetic resources and identify the comparative advantages of the Organization. A corporate strategic planning has just been completed at CSIRO, and its main elements could be used, at least as broad building blocks, at FAO.

On the other hand, Panel members considered, and agree on the conclusions of, a discussion paper on the relevance and feasibility of a global evaluation of biotechnology in the forestry sector. Forest trees are often associated with agricultural crops, although technical issues, corporate investments and economic returns appear to differ significantly in the two sectors. Some participants pointed out that decisions on biotechnologies was not always based on the best information available, and that a global picture on the status and trends of forest biotechnologies would help decision-makers, scientists and the general public at international, national and institutional levels.

The Secretariat explained that a biotechnology evaluation, to be carried out in less than two years, would have financial implications, and would be undertaken only if extra budgetary funding, including from the FAO interdepartmental working group on biotechnology, were available. The work is expected to generate statistical information and analyses necessary to the preparation of the forestry component of an FAO-wide Agriculture Biotechnology Policy Compendium. The evaluation could take advantage of on-going FAO programmes, through a logical chain of studies (wood supply and demand outlook -> projections on plantations -> outlook study on tree germplasm -> trends in tree breeding and improvement programmes -> impact on research and training).

2. The role and the functioning of the Panel

The Secretariat distributed a questionnaire on the perceived outcomes of the previous Session, the Panel’s contribution to the work of individual members in their respective countries and institutions, and ways to improve its functioning and increase its leverage. A majority of participants reported using and disseminating the outputs of the 2001 Session in public relation rather than fund raising. They agreed that specialized presentations from other FAO units helped them to put FAO’s forest genetic resources programme in context and stimulated discussions. Several members proposed to prepare and present discussion papers, for example during thematic Sessions, for which several themes were suggested. The need to convene Panel meetings more open to multidisciplinary contributions was stressed. Some participants emphasized that the Panel has in the past be instrumental in international tree seed exchanges, which laid the basis of modern plantation forestry, and that such outcomes should be recorded and celebrated.

A short discussion on the role of the Panel regarding the proposed technical assessments was held. The group did not find it relevant to establish sub-groups. Instead, Mr. Michel Bariteau (with the kind assistance of Mr. Paulo Kageyama) and Mr. Yousry El-Kassaby agreed to act as focal points and assist the Secretariat with the global evaluation and the biotechnology assessment respectively. Once finalized, drafts documents would be circulated to all Panel members and resources persons for their remarks and inputs. The work of the Panel, and its contribution to the work of FAO, could be disseminated through several mechanisms, including the FAO News & Highlights releases. 2

The global forest genetic resources assessment proposal should be further defined and fine-tuned. A tentative road map, prepared by some Panel members during the meeting, suggested to prepare a concept note to be circulated for comments, a number of country-based, species-based or thematic case studies in 2004-2005, and relevant syntheses, as appropriate. It was recommended to closely associate partner institutions and regional forestry commissions and their working groups to the process. The biotechnology assessment would constitute a specific case study.

3. Recommendations

1. The Panel stressed the importance of raising awareness of the social, economic and environmental benefits of conservation and wise use of forest genetic resources, and of the direct and indirect contributions which such action make to national and rural development. It recommended that FAO use relevant frameworks and information dissemination means to continue to provide up-to-date information on forest tree genetic diversity. The Panel recommended that FAO continue to give balanced attention to activities in the various geographical and eco-regional zones, and among forest genetic resources activities.

2. Recognizing limitations in national and international decision-making due to the lack of global information mechanisms on the state of forest genetic resources, the Panel recommended that FAO continue its efforts to explore ways to systematically collate, analyze and synthesize national, regional and global data and information on forest trees and genetic resources.

3. The Panel recommended that FAO clarify a number of technical issues in relation to a global assessment on forest genetic diversity, including the identification and validation of measurable forest genetic parameters, the identification of values attached to the use of trees and the relevance of existing priority-setting methodologies. The Panel recommended that appropriate studies on the relevance, feasibility and process of a global assessment of forest genetic resources be continued, and that procedures and partnerships for the assessment be established.

4. The Panel highlighted the role of FAO in raising awareness of the potentials and limitations of biotechnology in the forestry sector, and recommended that FAO continue to provide timely, up-to-date, technically sound information to countries and international organizations on issues related to the use of such technologies. The Panel recommended that FAO further explore the feasibility of a forest biotechnology evaluation, pending the identification of appropriate extra-budgetary funds; and that drafts documents be circulated to all Panel members and resource persons.

5. The Panel noted FAO’s efforts to enhance the efficiency of the Organization, including its Statutory bodies, in a time of financial challenge. It recognized the importance of flexible task-oriented working arrangements within the Panel, and recommended that FAO continue to promote thematic Panel Sessions, supported by relevant discussion papers.


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