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A brief overview of the proposed FAO model code of forest harvesting practice

Historical perspective
Conceptual framework
Concluding remarks

Dennis P. Dykstra
Deputy Director General for Research Center for International Forestry Research
Bogor, Indonesia


The draft FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice has been developed in response to needs expressed by representatives of tropical member countries of FAO who felt that a model forest-practice code was needed which would be specifically relevant to situations commonly encountered in tropical forests. Most existing codes of forest practice have been developed for temperate forests and social conditions relevant to industrialised countries.

The primary purpose of the FAO Model Code is to serve as a reference for FAO member countries in promoting forest harvesting practices which improve standards of utilisation and reduce environmental impacts, thereby contributing to the conservation of forests through wise use. The information it provides has been compiled with the intent of highlighting a range of environmentally sound harvesting practices that are available to forest managers, especially practices that require only a modest level of investment in training and technology. The philosophical principle is that knowledge of such practices should assist policy makers to develop national, regional, or local codes of practice which will best serve the particular needs of the public, government agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organisations and other constituents in a particular country, region or locality.

The FAO Model Code is not intended to serve as a reference on logging techniques, or to provide details on how to make proper use of harvesting tools and equipment. Many books and other publications which serve this function quite well already exist. Neither does it provide a catalogue of criteria by which to measure the environmental acceptability of various forest harvesting practices. As important as such a catalogue would be, it is probably not possible at the current state of knowledge to develop comprehensive criteria which would be globally applicable and at the same time economically practical.

The principles outlined in the FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice should provide a useful starting point for the preparation of forest practice codes by countries at any stage of economic development and in any climatic region. However, no single code of forest harvesting practice can apply equally well to all forests and all nations. The FAO Model Code thus emphasises practices which are thought to be most relevant to developing countries in the tropics. Even so, many of the specific practices recommended in the Model Code will require modification to adapt them for use in a specific country or region. The most useful function which a publication like this can serve is to outline the important general principles that govern environmentally sound forest harvesting and to promote harvesting practices that are in harmony with those principles.

Historical perspective

FAO was established in 1945 as an independent agency of the United Nations. Its primary mandate was to promote what we now think of as equitable and sustainable economic development among the world's poorest nations, focusing specifically on the fields of agriculture, food and nutrition, fisheries, and forestry. An important role for FAO which emerged quickly with respect to this mandate was its suitability as an impartial forum for debate among its member countries. Recognition of this role led to the establishment of the Committee on Forestry (COFO), a permanent committee representing FAO member countries which meets biennially in Rome to review the FAO Forestry Department's programmes and to suggest new activities for the future. In 1993, representatives of several tropical member countries attending that year's COFO meeting expressed interest in having the FAO Forestry Department prepare one or more "model codes of forest practice" which could serve as reference documents for developing countries considering the adoption of their own codes of forest practice. These representatives suggested that the model codes could also serve as a set of internationally acceptable guidelines to promote forest practices that improve standards of utilisation, reduce environmental impacts, help ensure that forests are sustained for future generations, and improve the economic and social contributions of forests to sustainable development.

The FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice is the first model code scheduled to be published by FAO in response to the request from COFO. Although this model code deals only with activities related to the harvesting of industrial timber, it is likely that FAO will publish additional model codes of forest practice which focus on silviculture, pest management, harvesting and processing of fuelwood and non-timber forest products, and other areas of forest practice relevant to developing countries.

Conceptual framework

"Codes of forest practice" are sets of regulations or guidelines which are designed to help foresters in government agencies and forest enterprises select practices to be followed in carrying out forest management and utilisation operations. In theory, practices which conform to a code of forest practice should achieve a desired outcome such as the harvest of commercial timber from a specified area of forest in a way that meets standards for sustainable forest management. Whether the codes of practice are mandatory or voluntary depends upon the legislative framework within which the rules or guidelines are adopted, the cultural history of the country or region, and even the attitudes of operators toward the results that the rules or guidelines are intended to achieve.

On public lands, and even increasingly in the private sector in many countries, forestry no longer focuses exclusively or even primarily on the production of commercial timber. It is now recognised worldwide that forests are of major importance for biological diversity, non-timber products, cultural values, and environmental services such as carbon sequestration, enrichment of soils, and provision of clean water. As a result forestry has become a more complex, more demanding discipline. One consequence of this is that it is now more difficult to plan and carry out forest harvesting operations because these operations must be designed and implemented in ways that accommodate, and if possible enhance, the multiresource character of the forest. To accomplish this foresters, planners, and logging operators require guidance on the practices that society is willing to accept and the outcomes that are required in connection with forest harvesting operations. This is an important motivation for the development of codes of forest harvesting practice, regardless of whether they are intended to be mandatory or voluntary.

The FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice is not itself a complete code of practice; this would be an unattainable goal, given the importance of local conditions in dictating economically feasible and environmentally sound forest harvesting practices. Rather, the Model Code is intended to be used as a reference by FAO member nations which are contemplating the preparation of their own codes of forest harvesting practice. It has therefore been prepared to provide information on a range of practices that are likely to be acceptable under various conditions, and also on practices which may damage timber or non-timber forest resources. In doing this, the Model Code assumes that it is first necessary to know what practices are technically and economically feasible; then, political institutions can be used to establish policies and legislation, in the context of the country's cultural and sociological framework, that will motivate or enforce the adoption of such practices.

A second basic assumption of the FAO Model Code is that it is possible to conduct forest harvesting operations in ways that are consistent with sustainable forest management. Doing so generally requires the following:

· comprehensive harvest planning;

· effective implementation and control of harvesting operations;

· thorough assessment of harvesting operations and communication of the results of the assessment to the planning team and to harvesting personnel;

· development of a competent and properly motivated workforce.

The FAO Model Code thus examines each of these with the intention of providing information on what is known about how to accomplish them in environmentally sound ways that do not require major investments in training and technology. This is done by considering specifically each of the following components of forest harvesting:

· harvest planning
· forest road engineering
· cutting
· extraction
· landing operations
· transport operations
· harvesting assessment
· the forest harvesting workforce

Each of these is thoroughly discussed in a chapter which:

(i) describes the operation being examined,

(ii) summarises guiding principles which serve as a basis for selecting practices to be recommended,

(iii) lists the objectives to be achieved by proper execution of the operation,

(iv) outlines potential consequences of improper practices, and finally

(v) provides details on the recommended practices themselves.

Insofar as possible the FAO Model Code attempts to provide flexibility in specifying recommended practices. In most cases it is not possible to know whether a specific harvesting practice will meet requirements for sustainability in all situations. Therefore, users can anticipate that it will be necessary to adapt guidelines on recommended harvesting practices to the local situation and also to changes which will occur over time, both in scientific understanding and in the socioeconomic conditions which provide an overall context to forest harvesting.

Concluding remarks

It is important to remember that it is not the forest harvesting practices themselves that are important but rather the results that are to be achieved as a consequence of implementing those practices. In most cases, however, the goal of sustainable forest management cannot be attained unless environmentally sound harvesting practices are widely adopted by logging operators. Thus the emphasis in the FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice is on the harvesting practices themselves, rather than on the results to be obtained. If improved practices are adopted, then it is more likely that the ecological, environmental, and cultural values of forests will be retained while simultaneously providing for the sustainable utilisation of commercial timber from those forests.

A final caveat is that laws or policies which are overly prescriptive tend to stifle initiative and thus make it difficult for practitioners to react creatively to changing situations. The best codes of forest practice are those that provide a firm foundation for decision making and assessment but also permit sufficient flexibility so that guidelines can be amended as more is learned about ecosystem function and silvicultural requirements, or as the socioeconomic situation in a country or region evolves. It is also true that effective codes of forest practice cannot be developed in isolation from potential users and other interested parties. Efforts to develop such codes should involve government forestry officials, representatives of the forest industry, loggers, leaders of local communities, representatives of non-governmental organisations, technical experts, and individuals whose livelihood or cultural well-being depends on the sustainability of forest resources.


FAO. 1994. FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice (DRAFT). Working Paper FO:Misc/94/6, Forestry Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 105 p.

Editors' note: In 1996 the final version of the FAO Model Code of Forest Harvesting Practice was published, replacing the draft version cited above. To order copies, contact the Sales Unit, GIPP, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy; fax +39 6 5225-3152, e-mail Mention ISBN no. 92-5-103690-X.

Author's Contact Information

Dennis P. Dykstra
Deputy Director General for Research
Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
P.O. Box 6596 JKPWB,
Jakarta 10065, Indonesia
Telephone: +62 251 622 622
Fax: +62251622100

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