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The State of the World's Forests (SOFO) provides information on the current status of the world's forests, as the name implies, but also discusses recent major policy and institutional developments, future directions in forestry and external influences on the sector. The purpose is to make current, reliable and policy-relevant information available to policy-makers, foresters and other natural-resource managers, academics, the forest industry and civil society. In doing so, it is hoped that SOFO will help facilitate informed discussion and decision-making.

SOFO was conceived in 1994 in response to a growing demand for reliable information on the world's forests and the absence of periodic reports giving a global and comprehensive view of forestry. The FAO Forestry Department consequently undertook to publish such a report every two years. The first SOFO was published in 1995. It was followed by a more comprehensive edition in 1997, which attempted to provide an overall view of the forest sector and to put forestry into a longer-term perspective by examining trends from 1970 to the present and by looking ahead to 2010. SOFO 1997 serves as a benchmark document. SOFO 1999 takes a different approach: it concentrates on significant events and developments of the last two years and focuses on a limited number of selected topical issues meriting a more in-depth look.

SOFO 1999 examines developments in the sector from the perspective of sustainable forest management. It sheds light on policy reforms, institutional developments, international conventions, economic changes and other factors affecting forests, forest resources and their provision of social and environmental services. SOFO 1999 addresses several questions: Are the changes taking place in forestry today bringing the world's forests closer to being sustainably managed? Do these changes increase forests' contribution to sustainable development? Are international initiatives to support this process helping to move the sector in the right direction?

Information is a theme that runs through this issue of SOFO. Information and its analysis are the basis for accurate planning and appropriate policy-making. SOFO 1999 takes a closer look at the need for different types of forest information, the scope of databases, national and international capabilities to collect and analyse information and international efforts to make it more accessible. Other topics addressed by SOFO 1999 include changing sources of wood supply, increased people's participation in forest planning and management, and formal and informal instruments for achieving sustainable forest management.

The FAO Forestry Department hopes that SOFO will succeed in increasing awareness of key issues facing the forest sector today and in providing readers with valuable information. We hope that this will contribute to national, regional and international efforts to work towards sustainable forest management, and thus towards sustainable human development.

As with the previous two reports, readers are encouraged to send FAO their comments on SOFO 1999. Additional or updated information that may be incorporated into SOFO 2001 would be most welcomed.


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M. Hosny El-Lakany
Assistant Director-General
FAO Forestry Department




SOFO 1999 owes its existence to the efforts of many individuals both within and outside FAO.

Overall coordination and editing of the publication was carried out by S.M. Braatz. The following FAO staff members and consultants were involved in collecting data, drafting sections or reviewing the document: G. Allard, J. Anderson, J. Ball, J. Balsiger, S. Bass, L.S. Botero, J. Bourke, S.M. Braatz, C. Brown, G. Bull, C.M. Carneiro, F. Castañeda, L. Christy, J. Clément, A. Contreras, R. Davis, P. Durst, C. Eckelmann, M. Hosny El-Lakany, L. Ferroukhi, T. Frisk, T. Hofer, M. Gauthier, S. Hald, R. Heinrich, H. Hilmi, V. Johnston, P. Koné, J. Lahaussois, M. Laverdière, J. Lindsay, L. Lintu, L. Ljungman, P. Lowe, G. Lund, Q. Ma, M. Malagnoux, M. Martin, D. McGuire, A. Mekouar, T. Michaelsen, M. Morell, H. Ortiz-Chour, F. Padovani, C. Palmberg-Lerche, M. Paveri, F. Pontecorvi, C. Prins, H. Qwist-Hoffmann, P. Qwist-Hoffmann, R. Romeo, L. Russo, K.H. Schmincke, E.H. Sène, O. Serrano, D. Shallon, A. Sherwood, P. Sigaud, H. Simons, O. Souvannavong, K. Thelen, M.A. Trossero, P. Vantomme, K. Warner, A. Whiteman, M.L. Wilkie and D. Williamson.

A number of outside collaborators contributed various pieces. H. Gillett (World Conservation Monitoring Centre, United Kingdom) prepared the piece on assessing biological diversity at the species and ecosystem level. B. Schlamadinger and G. Marland (Oak Ridge National Laboratory, United States) and C. Leining and B. Braatz (ICF Incorporated, United States) contributed the piece on forests' role in mitigating global climate change. D. Heuer (Precious Woods Ltd., Switzerland) prepared the box on certification of Precious Woods. D. Barron (Canadian Pulp and Paper Association) and H.S. Leng (Malaysia Timber Council) provided input for the piece on private-sector initiatives. N. Dudley (Equilibrium, United Kingdom) contributed the piece on NGOs for the section on initiatives in the international forestry debate.

The following members of the Internal Advisory Committee provided technical oversight in planning and reviewing the document: J. Anderson, J. Ball, J. Bourke, S. Dembner, M. Paveri, P. Vantomme and K. Warner.

FAO wishes to acknowledge the extremely valuable guidance given by the members of SOFO's External Review Committee: D. Barron, S. Bass, M. Dourojeanni, M. Goumandakoye, H. Gregersen, M. Hadley, J.P. Lanly, J. Maini, O. M'Hirit, C. Prins, M.N. Salleh and M. Simula. D. Kneeland also provided helpful comments.

Many thanks are due to S. Dembner and to the staff of the Editorial Group, FAO Publishing and Media Support Service for production and publication support. L. Ransom and E. Rubini provided essential secretarial assistance.



Executive summary

The State of the World's Forests (SOFO) is produced by FAO every two years for the purpose of making current, reliable and policy-relevant information available to policy-makers, foresters and other natural resource managers, academics, forest industry and the public. SOFO 1999, the third in the series, examines the current status of the world's forests, recent policy and institutional developments and external impacts on the sector. It concentrates on significant events and developments of the 1997-1998 period and on selected topical issues.

This two-year period was marked by extremes: record high global temperatures; devastating floods and severe droughts; widespread forest fires and heavy ice storms; and rapid global economic growth abruptly disrupted by the Asian economic crisis. Forests have felt the impact of these climatic and economic phenomena.

Significant changes have also been driven by developments within the forest sector. Policy-makers and forest managers have been responding to changing national priorities and to international commitments made at, and since, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, aimed towards sustainable management of all types of forests. A broader approach to forest management is being sought, balancing social, economic and environmental objectives. The concerns of a wider range of interest groups are being taken into consideration, and local communities are increasingly becoming directly involved in forest planning and management.

SOFO 1999 discusses the state and change of forests worldwide, new developments in forest management and issues and trends related to forest goods and services. It also examines recent policy trends and institutional changes which are having an impact on how, for what purposes and by whom forests are being managed. This global view of forestry today is augmented by information about the forest sector at the regional and subregional levels.


The latest global figures on forest cover indicate that in 1995 there were 3 454 million hectares of forest (including natural forests and forest plantations) worldwide. Between 1990 and 1995, the total area of forests decreased by 56.3 million hectares - the result of a loss of 65.1 million hectares in developing countries and an increase of 8.8 million hectares in developed countries. Major causes of forest cover change include conversion of forests to agricultural land and large infrastructural development in developing countries, and forest growth on abandoned agricultural land in developed countries.

The many causes of forest degradation include overharvesting of industrial wood and fuelwood, overgrazing, fire, insect pests and diseases, storms and air pollution; of these, forest fires were the most visible in 1997-1998. These were the worst two years for wildfires and forest fires in recent times. Millions of hectares of forest burned. All regions of the world were affected and nearly all types of forests burned. National disasters were declared, and national and international resources were mobilized to fight the fires. Vast areas of forest burned in Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and the Russian Federation. Although the exact areas are still unknown, estimates are 2 million hectares in Indonesia in 1997 and perhaps more in 1998, and 2 million hectares each in Brazil and the Russian Federation in 1998. While droughts associated with the unusually strong El Niño weather pattern contributed to the increased number, size, intensity and duration of fires, land use practices, mainly in agriculture and forestry, were clearly major causes of many fires. The fires have catalysed national and international initiatives to encourage appropriate policy responses and operational measures for preventing and controlling fires in the future.


Forest management objectives, management practices and the managers themselves have changed dramatically in the past decade in many countries. Increased emphasis on environmental values has resulted in significant expansion of the protected area systems (including forest lands) of some countries over the past few years. Greater emphasis on management of natural forests for multiple purposes and increased attention to environmental factors have led, in some places, to reduced intensities of timber harvesting and changes in management practices. Logging bans in natural forests have been announced in several countries. The increased emphasis on the use of natural forests for environmental protection, conservation of biological diversity and recreation has increased the reliance on forest plantations and other sources of wood supply in some countries.

Efforts to improve the stewardship of forests designated for wood production include silvicultural improvements and the adoption of environmentally sound timber harvesting practices. Operational guidelines and codes of practice for forest management have been adopted in Europe and North America. New silvicultural systems have been developed for temperate and boreal forests in North America and for tropical forests. Codes of practice and guidelines for forest harvesting have recently been drafted for tropical forests, most notably in the Asia and the Pacific region.

Changing patterns of forest ownership, increasing support for locally based forest management and greater participation of the private sector in forest management have influenced how forests are managed and by whom. Changes leading to increased local forest management in various countries include:


Recognition of the social and environmental services of forests - such as mitigation of global climate change, conservation of soil and water resources, enhancement of agricultural systems, conservation of biological diversity, improvement of urban and peri-urban living conditions, protection of natural and cultural heritage, generation of employment and provision of recreational opportunities - continues to grow.

As the emphasis on these important services of trees and forests has increased, more attention has been focused on forests in fragile ecosystems - including mountains, drylands and small island States - and in countries with low forest cover. Although these forests generally have relatively low timber value, their important social and environmental functions have been increasingly recognized in management decisions. Forests' role in water conservation is expected to be given more prominence as international attention increasingly turns to freshwater resource issues.

The role of forests in mitigating global climate change was given greater prominence with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol of the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1997 and the deliberations of the fourth Conference of the Parties in Buenos Aires, Argentina in November 1998. The Kyoto Protocol establishes legally binding commitments for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases from industrialized countries and permits the use of a limited list of activities in the land use change and forest sector to meet these commitments. The protocol thus provides industrialized countries incentives to invest, in both their own and other countries, in forestry activities which increase carbon sequestration and/or reduce carbon emissions. While many details of the Kyoto Protocol remain to be clarified, if ratified it should offer possibilities for investment in forestry.


Meeting the needs for wood and non-wood forest products while at the same time fulfilling demands for environmental and social services from forests remains a major challenge.

While wood is the predominant commercial product from most forests, increased attention is being paid to non-wood forest products (NWFPs), whose main importance currently lies in their contribution to household and local economies, particularly among the poor in developing countries. Recent regional and international fora have addressed the needs to conserve non-wood resources while ensuring local peoples' equitable access to and use of the resources, to improve market information and to develop appropriate and fair pricing mechanisms for NWFPs (including royalties on intellectual property rights). SOFO 1999 focuses specifically on medicinal plants, which as a group are among the most valuable NWFPs from forests. Most medicinal plants gathered from the wild come from forest lands.

Fuelwood and charcoal are expected to continue to be important sources of household energy in developing countries. Moreover, recent policy changes and experiences with wood-based bio-energy programmes in several countries indicate that woodfuels may become increasingly attractive to some countries as industrial energy sources.

Developed regions continue to dominate heavily in production and consumption of industrial wood products. FAO has projected that demand for industrial roundwood will increase by 1.7 percent annually between now and the year 2010, driven both by population increases and economic growth. While recent studies suggest that supplies are sufficient to meet this demand, the situation will vary among countries and will depend greatly on market conditions, government policies, technological improvements and human resource development. Production of industrial roundwood is expected to continue to exceed consumption in all regions except Asia, which will continue to rely on imports to make up the difference.

Recent trends which are expected to continue to help in meeting the increasing demand for processed wood products include:

Trade will help balance deficits of wood fibre in one place with surpluses elsewhere.

The Asian economic crisis, which began in mid-1997, has seriously disrupted forest products trade in the Asia and the Pacific region. The main impacts on countries within the region have been:

While Asian wood markets have been the most severely affected, the effects have spread outside the region to countries that either depend heavily on, or compete with, Asian markets. Wood exporters from Africa to New Zealand and from North to South America have been affected.

Certification remains a high-profile but complex and often controversial issue. Various international, regional and national certification systems have been developed. The area of forests certified has increased considerably in the past two years, although significant volumes of certified products apparently are not yet entering the market. It is unclear whether the demand for certified wood will increase and whether certification will, in fact, significantly contribute to improved forest management where deforestation is greatest, i.e. in developing countries.


Evident trends in forest policy reform include attempts to privatize State forest resources and public forest-based companies, to decentralize certain functions of central government administrations and to eliminate some "perverse subsidies", including the underpricing of forest concessions.

Revision of forest-related laws around the world has accelerated significantly in recent years. The legal changes reflect commitments to:

Institutional changes in the forest sector - particularly privatization and the decentralization and devolution of forest management responsibilities to the local level - have closely paralleled these policy and legislative trends. Decentralization and privatization are also affecting forest research systems. Forest education and extension are responding to changing objectives for forest management, new forest owners and/or managers and the forest-related concerns of an increased number of interest groups.


Many organizations have made substantial efforts over the past few years to collect and disseminate global forest-related information. Major initiatives have been undertaken in forest cover assessment and mapping, forest resources assessment, study of wood supply and data collection on biological diversity. Complementing these global efforts are various initiatives to collect and analyse information at the regional level and to strengthen national capacity in the collection, analysis and use of forest-related information.


Many recent international initiatives are aimed at fostering sustainable forest management. More than 150 countries are currently participating in international processes to develop and implement national-level criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. Various efforts at the forest management unit level are being coordinated by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and the African Timber Organization (ATO). Other international initiatives include the establishment and management of model and demonstration forests, ITTO's "Year 2000 Objective" and the G8 countries' action programme on forests which was approved in May 1998. Developments in the implementation of the three international conventions arising from UNCED (the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification) and the International Tropical Timber Agreement provide additional support for certain elements of forest management. Non-governmental organizations and the private sector continue to be active in the international forest debate and in efforts to improve forest management at the field level.

The post-UNCED international dialogue on forests led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) from 1995 to 1997 resulted in over 100 negotiated proposals for action. Work continues under the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF), established in mid-1997. In 2000, IFF will present its final report to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development on its three major areas of work:

The issue of international instruments for support of forests first arose in 1990. Since then, a number of such instruments, both legally and non-legally binding, have been developed. Consensus on whether additional international instruments are needed, and if so, what they would cover, remains elusive. Discussion of whether to rely on existing mechanisms, to enhance them or to develop additional ones - such as a legally binding instrument on all types of forests - promises to remain high on the international forest agenda for at least the next few years.

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