Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East

Doha, Qatar, 13 - 17 March 2004

Forest and Tree Contribution to Environment, Water and Food Security

Table of Contents









1. Land degradation, including soils, forests and water resources is considered to be the greatest constraint and threat to sustainable agricultural development in most of the developing countries, particularly the Near East Region.

In the past decades, the rapid world’s population growth put pressure on limited land resources to satisfy people increasing needs for food, forest products and socio-economic goods have occurred at the expense of forest and wood lands in fragile ecosystems. In several Near East countries, watersheds have come under increasing threat over the last few decades. Deforestation, mining, unsound agricultural practices, global warming, tourism and urbanization are all taking their toll on watersheds, and putting the supply of fresh water at risk.

In this context, it is widely accepted that sustainable use and management of land resources will only be achieved by adopting a system of improved land, water and vegetation management and utilization that is based on an integrated approach. The critical role that forests and trees have in maintaining regional and local water balances has long been recognized. Sustainable forest and tree resources management and watershed development are tightly linked. Upstream management of forests strongly affects downstream uses of water resources.

To enhance forests, trees and watersheds contribution to water management, environmental protection and food security; FAO launched several relevant programmes such as forests, food security and poverty alleviation and forests and water.


2. Most of the Region countries have arid climate (scare rainfall, high temperatures) and dominated by a very low forest and woodland cover, which represents less than 5.8 percent of the land area of the Region and less than 2.81 percent of the world’s cover. Under such harsh ecological conditions and water scarcity, sustainable management and use of natural resources, including increased tree planting to restore the landscape and improve agricultural production, are critical.

3. Today, in over 40 countries, more than 2 billion people are affected by water shortages: of these 1.1 billion have insufficient drinking water and 2.4 billion have inadequate sanitation.. If current predictions come true, by 2050 at least one in four people will live in countries affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater.

To improve watershed conditions and to conserve water resources, sustainable forest and tree management is considered a key factor to water resources management in particular and upland resources development, in general. Forested catchments supply water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and other ecological needs in downstream areas. Forests and tree also regulate soil and water quality, protect the soil from erosion and contribute to its fertility and intercept rainfall and channel runoff.

4. Technically, effective watershed management offers the possibility to consider the interrelationships between the productivity and conservation in the use of natural resources, as well as the recognition of upstream-downstream linkages related to the protection and use of land resources, especially with regards to water supplies. Effective watershed management is also considered by many as an appropriate approach to address food security and poverty alleviation which explains the popularity of watershed development among planners.


5. Forests and trees play critical role in development of the Region. In fact, trees have the potential to restore degraded land and ecosystems, protect landscape and water resources and dams against siltation and pollution. In urban areas forest and green spaces improve environmental conditions through carbon sequestration and air pollution control. Trees are also attached to symbolic social, religious and cultural values.

Forested watersheds are very important freshwater-yielding areas in terms of both quantity and quality. Mountain watersheds provide 30 to 60 percent of the freshwater flowing downstream in humid regions while in semi-arid and arid areas they provide 70 to 95 percent. Better water management is a key requirement to achieving food security.

Forests, trees and forested watersheds provide multitude of services. The loss of forest and tree cover and conversion to other land uses can adversely affect freshwater supplies and compound human disasters resulting from hydro-meteorological extremes. Also, loss of forests and trees can contribute to local and perhaps regional climate variability.

6. Although efforts are still needed to better understand the effects of forest and trees management on climate and water flows; it is generally accepted that forested watersheds are exceptionally stable hydrological systems. In contrast to other land uses, healthy forests:

7. Also, forests and tree formations in the form of agro-forestry (shelter belts, individual trees, etc.) especially in such harsh environments of the Near East, are acknowledged to contribute to food production and hence security through amelioration of micro-climate in agricultural and pasture lands. As well, forest and trees provide food (fruits, leaves, roots, bush meat, etc.), medicine, fodder, wood products for fuel and services and goods to the rural population, particularly in the North African countries where 50% of the domestic energy is provided by wood product, mainly from farms. The importance of tree role to livelihoods is demonstrated by the agro-forestry systems practiced by the farmers in rural as well as in urban areas.


8. Globally, large scale removal of forests by man in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries created significant changes in the hydrologic function of watersheds. Downstream flooding occurred more frequently with subsequent increase in loss of life and damage to infrastructure. Accelerated erosion produced by changes in the biotic and hydrologic components of natural drainages created unprecedented large-scale siltation at downstream areas.

9. During the last few decades, watershed degradation was seen as a serious threat not only to the environment but to the well-being and survival of millions of people living in downstream areas. Recognising the importance of the conditions of upper catchments, reversing watershed degradation became a priority for many countries. However, many watershed management programmes failed to achieve their objectives mainly due to:

Consequently, new concepts and approaches were developed to reverse watershed degradation and to improve agriculture and rural development. In this regard, particular attention was given to the social and economic aspects of watershed management in formulating and implementing programmes and projects.

10. In this context and in order to meet small farmers’ development needs, sustainable forest resources and land improvement through increased tree planting, particularly at farmer’s level, as well at urban level was recommended as priority action. Agro-forestry systems and urban forestry (Trees Outside Forests) have been recognized as a valuable approach to sustainable development and livelihoods. Recognizing that the management and conservation of land resources would not be sustainable nor could be replicated unless peoples’ concerns were taken into account; the integrated concept was further refined to consider community needs as an important component of the programme development.

11. The participatory approach introduced over the last decade includes, in addition to the technical aspects, the economic, social, political and cultural dimensions of natural resources conservation and management. Watershed management has become multi-disciplinary, requiring institutional and organizational coordination of watershed management activities.


12. As a consequence of the attention to and investments in integrated watershed management which includes forest and trees management, much progress has been achieved. However, several issues still require in-depth analysis and consultation among concerned parties. An overview of experiences over the last decade reveals that the following elements need to be taken into consideration in order to achieve the expected results:

Knowledge and information: Emphasis should be made on building technical capacities and in making available the appropriate tools and information for the implementation of effective watershed management programmes. More attention should be given to forest cover assessment and to tree planting and management involving farmers and private sector.

Scale effects: Watershed management activities should be considered at the local, national and regional levels. Watershed management/forest and trees benefits on freshwater are better recognized when the upstream-downstream linkages and interactions are linked to scale effects.

Stakeholders involvement/participation: Such involvement and participation should be integrated as a major component in the design and development of relevant programmes and in making policies.

Special emphasis on water: Forest hydrology should be considered as one of the important elements constituting effective watershed management.

Upstream-downstream linkages: Planning and implementation of watershed management related interventions should be based on a better understanding of the upstream-downstream linkages and interactions, including the socio-economic factors.

Emphasis on agro-forestry: Tree-based farming systems have been recognized as the most promising practices to minimize land and soil degradation and improve soil fertility and therefore should be encouraged.

Cities greening: Tree planting and green space management are to be encouraged as they have an increasing role to play in offering recreation green areas and in mitigating air pollution and environmental degradation

Economic returns: To ensure sustainability and replication of watershed management interventions, there is need to make sure that economic returns are guaranteed to upland beneficiaries as well as to downstream inhabitants and resource users.

Adequate institutional and organizational arrangements: Institution building for watershed management is a major issue. In this respect, it is being recognised that there is a need for improved understanding and identification of institutional and organizational arrangements required for an effective watershed management. An appropriate legislative framework to support watershed management policies has been also raised as an important tool which needs particular attention.

Long-term vision and commitment: Watershed management is increasingly seen as an appropriate vehicle not only for environmental conservation but also for the improvement of living conditions of rural communities. In this regard, there is a need for long-term commitment, including financial, from all stakeholders.


A. Review and Assessment of Watershed Management Approaches and Strategies

13. In response to raised key issues of major concern to the development of watershed management; FAO launched in 2002, within the framework of the International Year of Mountains (IYM) for 2002, the initiative “Preparing the Next Generation of Watershed Management Programmes” to review and assess watershed management activities.

B. New Entity “Forests and Water”

14. The new entity Forests and Water which is being included in the FAO Medium Term Plan 2004-2009 reflects the special attention paid by FAO to the conservation of water resources. This new entity will focus on improved national awareness and policy environment in support of the sustainable management of mountain forests and upland areas with regard to water resources.

C. Planted Forest, Trees Outside Forests and Urban Forestry

15. FAO is implementing within the Medium Term Plan 2002-2007 an entity on “Planted Forests and Trees Outside Forests” and has recently designed a strategic urban and peri-urban framework for the Medium Tem Plan 2004-2009. Both will provide required assistance to Member Countries, particularly in low forest-cover areas, to establish and manage forests, trees and watersheds within and outside the cities, and technology transfer.

D. Forests, Poverty Alleviation and Food Security at FAO

16. FAO’s 2004-2009 Medium Term Plan envisages several new programmes relevant to poverty alleviation, including Forests, Poverty Alleviation and Food Security. In addition, Participatory Forestry will now be refocused as Participatory Forestry and Sustainable Livelihoods.


17. Water scarcity and watershed degradation have direct impacts on people livelihoods. In fact, the majority of the world’s population live downstream of watersheds/forested watersheds and therefore are susceptible to the costs of watershed degradation. At the same time, 28 percent of the world’s forest areas are in mountains, which are the source of some 60 to 80 percent of the world’s freshwater resources.

18. In connection to the above, this paper aims to highlight the magnitude and urgency of watershed management problems, mainly with regards to forest and trees role and impact. Also to underline the need to focus increased global and regional attention on watershed management because watersheds integrate resources, environmental services, uses and users and therefore requires a multi-sectoral approach which involves all concerned parties.

To achieve effective integrated tree and watershed management, the following potential future direction and activities should be given high priority:

19. FAO is called upon to provide technical assistance for:

20. Member Countries are called upon to:

21. In Partnerships efforts should be made towards: