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Chapter 1. Introduction

1.1 Planted forests

Planted forests account for about 7 percent of global forest area or about 2 percent of global land area, i.e. slightly less than 300 million hectares. At the same time, they provide more than half the industrial wood produced in the world and their extent and productivity are increasing. Compared with naturally regenerating forests, planted forests represent a higher investment per area unit and normally produce higher values through their products and services. They are also diverse in size and type, ranging from smallholdings to industrial estates and from primarily protective functions to a wood production orientation. Planted forests stretch from boreal to tropical zones and use native and introduced tree species. They are also sometimes controversial: achieving a balance among sociocultural, environmental and economic benefits can be a challenge.

Forests, including planted forests, supply wood, fibre, fuelwood and non-wood forest products for industrial and non-industrial uses. The benefits of wood products over competing products (of cement, plastics and metal) are that they are renewable, energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Planted forests, when managed responsibly, can also contribute towards the provision of environmental services (soil and water protection, rehabilitation of degraded lands, restoration of landscapes, habitat development and carbon sequestration) and of social services and livelihood support (regional development, income generation, employment and recreation). They may also offset pressure for wood production from primary forests and valuable forest ecosystems.

Forests appear in many types in most ecological zones. They vary widely in cover, structure and species composition. Fitting all forests into a few global classes is thus a challenge. It is, however, well established that forests can be described along a continuum of naturalness and, at the same time, of management impact on the structure and composition of the forest. FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment process has established four classes along this continuum:

In addition to these forest classes, woodlands and ‘trees outside forests’ in agricultural landscapes and urban areas are recognized as forest resources. Planted forests include forest plantations and the planted part of semi-natural forests (Figure 1; further details are provided in Annex 2).

The voluntary guidelines frequently refer to ‘planted forest management’, which means the planning and implementation of all types of regulations, institutional arrangements, research and development activities, policies, monitoring and forest operations related to the planted forest, whether at strategic policy levels or at the operational field level. The term does not, however, refer to activities, processing, marketing or trade related to forest products beyond the forest gate, although linkages with these activities are important to decision-making in planted forest management.


Continuum of forest characteristics from primary forests to trees outside forests, highlighting the scope of planted forests

Adapted from FAO, 2006.

1.2 About the voluntary guidelines


Recognizing the economic, social, cultural and environmental importance of planted forests, governments and other stakeholders asked FAO to prepare, together with collaborating partners, a set of guiding principles in support of the policy, legal, regulatory and technical enabling conditions for planted forest management.

A process of multistakeholder consultations clarified that the principles and guidelines should help ensure that cultural, social, environmental and economic dimensions be considered and incorporated into planted forest management in a balanced manner. The voluntary guidelines should build on international arrangements related to forests, including criteria and indicators processes and the ‘sustainable forest management’ concept. While specifically related to planted forests, they should not be seen in isolation from overall forest management, but should provide an example that could be followed for other components of sustainable forest management. Moreover, they should consider existing international law, conventions and agreements outside the forestry-specific dialogue in order to ensure that broader aspirations of sustainable land use, sustainable development and human rights are addressed.

The multistakeholder dialogue on planted forests further indicated that the principles and guidelines should be complemented by technical implementation considerations, a comprehensive bibliography, and annexes clarifying the background and terminology.

The scope of the guidelines is global: they may be adopted and applied to planted forests in all ecogeographical zones and to countries, regions and landscapes in all stages of economic development. Acceptance and implementation of the voluntary guidelines is not legally binding.

The guidelines apply to planted forests that fulfil productive functions for the provision of wood, fibre and non-wood forest products or protective functions for the provision of environmental and/or social services. They cover all aspects of planted forests, from policy development and planning through the technical considerations of planted forest management. Linkages with marketing, industry and trade are also relevant for management decision-making, although not directly addressed here.

The voluntary guidelines do not replace existing national or international laws, commitments, treaties or agreements. Rather, they establish a framework supporting dialogue in the formulation of policies, laws, regulations and strategic and management plans that, in turn, will help improve enabling conditions and enhance capacity and capability in planted forest management.

Forest certification schemes may build upon or complement the guidelines by establishing procedures for and monitoring of technical standards and best practices in planted forest management. It is acknowledged that where planted forests are certified by recognized, credible certification schemes, the intent of these guidelines is likely to have been satisfied. Similarly, where national or subnational guides, codes of practice or other forest practice systems applying to planted forests exist and have been reviewed against nationally and internationally based standards, they are likely to have satisfied the intent of the voluntary guidelines.

The capacity-building required to implement the guidelines will contribute to meeting national implementation and reporting requests for various international conventions, agreements and other undertakings, some of which are described in Section 2.


The objectives of the voluntary guidelines are to:

The intent has been to propose practical voluntary guidelines that, in particular, may promote planted forest investment and management across a wide range of situations – including to owners of small forest areas.


The primary users of the voluntary guidelines will be government policy, legal, regulatory and planning decision-makers, investors (public or private, corporate or smallholder) and forest managers, including stakeholders in communally owned or managed forests.

It is recognized that the capacity and capability of the users and the context of uses will vary according to the diverse national, subnational and local levels.

Review and updating

Because the voluntary guidelines are comprehensive, a staged approach to implementation may be necessary, particularly in developing countries.

Based upon guidance and feedback from users, a multistakeholder partnership process, similar to the initial preparation process, should be used periodically to revise the guidelines and the implementation partnership arrangements.

Special requirements of developing countries

The voluntary guidelines may be implemented by countries in all stages of economic development. Moreover, it is recognized that developing countries may require additional support in institutional strengthening and capacity-building in order to provide enabling conditions that support implementation. The principles should be considered by these countries in the process of policy-making and planning, including of the enabling conditions for investment in planted forests. Similarly, countries with economies that are industrialized, in transition or developing can use the guidelines to reassess their existing policy, legal, regulatory, planning and management framework for planted forests.

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