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The FAO programme on forest genetic resources (FGR) covers an wide range of themes and issues. Over the last 25 years, reflecting the needs and requirements of member countries, its main technical focus has gradually shifted from seed collection and exchange, to gene conservation and management techniques, and assistance in the assessment of country-based forest genetic diversity. The scope of the FGR programme has also widened, incorporating such issues like the applications of new biotechnologies in the forestry sector, access and property rights and legal implications, and the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Considering the limitations in human and financial resources, attention is paid to setting consistent relative priorities among the programme components; and to maximizing the programmes' outputs and impact. In line with FAO's mandate, and following recommendations of the 11th Session of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources, the activities related to collection, analysis and dissemination of information on forest genetic diversity has given high priority during the biennium 2000-2001.

Information Webpages etc. 17



Internet version

"FAO Forestry Papers" series

E and/or F, S



Specialized co-publications with IPGRI, ICRAF, DFSC, IUFRO

E, F, S

In situ Guide

in progress

"FAO Forestry Department Working Papers on Forest Genetic Resources"

E, F or S

11 Papers

in progress

"FAO Forestry Department Information Notes"

E, F, S

3 Notes


Annual bulletin "Forest Genetic Resources"

E, F, S

Issues No 28 and 29


Reports of meetings of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources

E, F, S

Report 11th Session (1999)


Homepage on Forest Genetic Resources

E, F, S

Summaries in C

Major upgrading in 2001


REFORGEN data base

Menus in E, F, S;

Search results in E

Released in 2000


Specialized mail addresses and electronic lists of experts, partners and collaborators

E, F, S

Updated lists


Table 1. Forest Genetic Resources Information and Dissemination Media Used in 2000-2001

A number of programmes and activities (including support to country-based and regional assessments, updating of REFORGEN, sessions of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources) generate a significant amount of quantitative and qualitative information which needs to be reviewed, checked, compiled, harmonized and published in a consistent way. Consistency has also to be ensured with the overall FAO Forestry Department communication strategy. Information on forest genetic resources is conveyed through a wide range of dissemination tools. A summary of information processed and dissemination media used by the forest genetic resources programme in 2000-2001 is given in Table1.

FAO Forest Genetic Resources Homepage

The FAO homepage on forest genetic resources was launched in 1997 and has since then been gradually expanded to cover a broad range of issues and all FAO's FGR programmes and activities. The site18 contains links to a number of related pages hosted by other FAO units or other organizations active in the field of forest genetic resources, thus facilitating access to a large amount of data and sources. Recent issues of the annual bulletin "Forest Genetic Resources" have been available online from 1995 onwards as well as biennial reports of the Panel on Forest Gene Resources. All information is now available in English, French and Spanish. The REFORGEN database and a site specially devoted to the activities of the International Neem Network, coordinated by FAO, have recently been added, with new topics such as biosecurity, field projects, and a glossary.

In the near future, information will also be provided through thematic areas, including specific menus by species or by selected geographic level (continent, eco-region, country), according to information sources available. A major technical programme in FAO's FGR workplan aims at supporting national institutions in the evaluation of forest genetic diversity in their respective countries; and compiling standardized data in regional assessments and action plans. The detailed narratives and data provided by the programme complement summary tables by species or by country available from REFORGEN (see below); and information provided by the Panel of Experts (including biennial updates on forest genetic resources activities by region, and lists of priority species)19. The objective of the on-going homepage upgrading is to provide a platform for disseminating country- and region-based information in the coming years. Through this system, users will get easy access to source-identified and often unique data that complement other global forest assessments20.

Annual Bulletin , "Forest Genetic Resources"

In 1973 FAO started publishing the bulletin "Forest Genetic Resources [Information]", first in three issues per biennium, presently annually. The bulletin is published in a total of 3800 copies in English, French and Spanish, and contains a selection of papers representing a wide coverage of technical forest genetic resources issues and geographical/eco-geographical situations. In addition to technical papers, each issue contains a number of short notes summarizing interesting activities and highlighting recent literature of interest. Forest Genetic Resources targets a broad audience of geneticists, researchers, government-owned forest agencies and project managers and is presently distributed to readers in 167 different countries. An index has recently been updated and is being posted on line, facilitating the retrieval of specialized information by key word, author, country or species.

REFORGEN: the FAO World Wide Information System on Forest Genetic Resources

The development of REFORGEN was requested by member countries to fill identified gaps in FGR information. The information in REFORGEN has been available on the Internet since December 200021. In addition, dissemination of the information on CD ROM is being considered.

At present, a rather simple system has been developed, covering a limited number of key parameters related to the conservation and use of forest genetic diversity. It is the intention, human and financial resources permitting, to gradually expand the system to a wider range of parameters in close collaboration and consultation with the participating countries, based on the results and experiences gained in the initial phase.

Two types of information can be stored: (i) information on species (status and activities of relevance to forest genetic resources in a given country), and (ii) information on organizations active in a given country. All information in the system is aggregated at the species and at the country (national) level.

The core data in REFORGEN was provided by the FAO member countries through replies to a questionnaire on forest genetic resources, originally despatched in March 1993 to all Heads of Forestry. This data has been complemented by information provided by countries in the preparation of the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources held in Leipzig, Germany, June 1996. The system is now being updated using information from country reports prepared in connection with regional and eco-regional workshops. The format of country assessments and the REFORGEN entry templates are being standardized. Additional sources include scientific publications, specialized bulletins, FAO field programme reports, etc.

As of March 2001, REFORGEN includes information on forest genetic resources activities in 150 countries and territories related to more than 1600 tree species. There are however large differences from different countries in the amount of information at present available in the system, ranging from limited information on a few national priority forest tree species for some countries, to detailed information on a wide range of species and activities for other countries.

The task of maintaining and regularly updating information is complicated by the many and different types of organizations concerned and the general lack of national level coordination between them. The REFORGEN information has been gathered through "National Focal Point" organizations (in most cases the national Forest Department/Forest Service). As mentioned above, such comprehensive information is not readily available in many countries and may not have been compiled by respondents. As a consequence, FAO has received uncoordinated information from more than one organization, for a number of countries, and for others the information at present in the system is unlikely to be a fair representation of the total amount of activities. These shortcomings underline the importance of regular revision of information available in REFORGEN by countries concerned; and the need for national authorities to validate the data.

The process of revision and updating of the information by countries has been initiated; information presently in the system is being officially sent to a number of individual countries for confirmation, revision and up-dating. Request for revision of available data, which is planned to be done region by region, has been started in the Near-East region, and will gradually be expanded to cover other regions and countries. This activity will have to be repeated at regular intervals.

In summary, REFORGEN should be seen as a basic system, covering a limited number of key parameters of importance for decision-making and planning in forest genetic resources activities and programmes. The objective has not been - and will not be in the future - to develop a system with very detailed information at the national, local or single-organization level; this is the task of complementary national database systems, or specialized reports such as status assessments on forest genetic resources in individual countries. In many ways, REFORGEN could be used as a primer, to help reply queries such as "who is doing what on that species in this country?".

REFORGEN is an important element in a comprehensive information strategy on FGR that includes a wide range of information support and communication tools. As a response to its presence on the Internet, FAO's forest genetic resources programme is receiving an increasing amount of requests for additional information from visitors to the homepage. Requests originate from a broad audience including farmers and students, researchers and project managers. One of the future challenges will consist in monitoring, and meeting, the requests and expectations of actual and potential users, including national institutions of member countries, and continue to provide sound, neutral and updated quality information through the most appropriate dissemination supports.

16 Based on Information Note FORGEN/01/7
17 See also lists of publications and articles in Notes FORGEN 01/4; and FORGEN 01/6.
18 At the time of writing (October 2001), the site was being updated and all functions and all language versions were not yet available on-line.
19 See
20 See for example .

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