IN THE history of FAO 1963 is a year of profound significance. It is the twentieth anniversary of the Hot Springs Conference (Virginia, U.S.A.), which led to the foundation of this international organization. During these years, FAO'S work and responsibilities have been steadily growing, and today its philosophy and basic aims find embodiment in the Freedom from Hunger Campaign which is FAO's main contribution to the United Nations Development Decade.
The midpoint of this Campaign was marked by the World Food Congress held in Washington in June. This Congress brought together statesmen, scientists, sociologists and representatives of citizen groups from all parts of the globe to confer on the challenge of hunger and to give a lead to world opinion as to what should be done to meet this challenge.
In preparation for the Congress, a Special Assembly on Man's Right to Freedom from Hunger was convened in Rome on 14 March. This Assembly was attended by 29 world-renowned personalities, including several Nobel Prize winners and others whose contribution to the thought and culture of the twentieth century is widely acknowledged.
A Manifesto issued by the Assembly provided a dramatic opening for the World Freedom from Hunger Week, from 17 to 24 March, which spanned the equinox that marks spring and the time of sowing in the Northern Hemisphere, and harvest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The various imaginative ways in which the Week was celebrated will have been experienced personally by many readers of Unasylva. In addition 140 postal administrations throughout the world issued special FFHC stamps, thus securing the widest possible dissemination of the Campaign message.
Laymen often express scepticism of any relationship between forestry and freedom from hunger. In fact, as is set out in a recent FAO publication, Possibilities of increasing world food production (FFHC Basic Study No. 10), the preservation or restoration of an adequate forest cover is a vital necessity for the protection of farmland against erosion and flooding, and for the regulation of the water supply on which the growth of food crops depends. Indeed, excessive deforestation has led, and is still leading, to serious losses of farm land in many parts of the world.
One of the basic ways in which farm production may be increased is by extending irrigation. This involves expensive public works which may only be wasted as a result of the silting-up of reservoirs and canals. If an irrigation scheme is to be a permanent asset to a country's agriculture, then the catchment area from which it derives its water must be protected from erosion by adequate vegetative or forest cover.
This is an indirect way in which forestry helps food production. There are direct ways also. In cultivated areas the plantation of windbreaks and shelterbelts, which take up a negligible percentage of the cropland, can increase yields by 10 to 20 percent in favorable years, and from next to nothing to a normal yield in drought years. After the first establishment expenditure these plantations cost nothing, since the cost of maintenance is offset by the products of thinning, and the sacrifice of cropland is more than offset by increase in yield.
In arid climates the plantation of forest trees may be more than an insurance against bad harvests; it may be the only way of keeping a given tract of land in production. For instance, the great Indian desert is marching eastward, absorbing about 800 square kilometers of cropland every year. Protective plantations are the only effective defense against such encroachment. The same is true of sand dunes which, unless they are fixed by a good vegetative cover, gradually advance on neighboring land.
Above all, however, freedom from hunger cannot be attained without money, without investments, without imports of goods and materials. The earnings from forestry, and especially from state forests, can help in the provision of both the cash and the stimulus toward development. It is this philosophy which underlies the Organization's program of work in forestry and forest products for 1964 and 1965 to be proposed to the next session of the Conference of FAO at Rome in November 1963.
"The rising needs of an expanding economy must be met from ample supplies of suitable wood at reasonable prices." A sulphite pulp mill in Sweden. (Photo: Gustav Hansson, Stockholm.)