COMMITTEE ON FORESTRY
Rome, Italy, 10-13 March 1997
CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE
This Note briefly reviews ongoing activities and perceived future needs in the conservation, management and sustainable utilization of forest genetic resources. It notes the efforts made over the past 30 years by all concerned to coordinate such work, and recognizes the role played by the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources. Recent, welcome intensification of efforts has led to a need to strengthen mechanisms for international collaboration. In the light of the outcome of the Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (June 1996), it is proposed that a global plan of action for the conservation and sustainable utilization of forest genetic resources be elaborated to facilitate a globally coherent process and help guide activities. It is further proposed that this initiative be launched under the guidance of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources and within the framework of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and that FAO undertake this effort in collaboration with other organizations concerned.
1. The diversity present in the thousands of forest tree species on earth constitutes an inter-generational resource of vast social, economic and environmental importance. Genetic variation is needed to ensure present-day and future adaptability of species as well as their continued evolution. It is also needed to maintain options and potential for improvement to meet changing end use requirements and dynamically evolving environmental conditions.
2. The prospects for sustainable development will be enhanced by the availability of diverse germplasm of both indigenous and introduced tree species.
3. Conservation of forest genetic resources is, increasingly, an issue of major national and international concern. Threats to the integrity of forest genetic resources include deforestation and changes in land use, atmospheric pollution, climate change and inappropriate forest harvesting practices. A further threat to genetically diversified, local populations, which may possess special, valuable attributes such as adaptation to environmental stress or disease resistance, is posed by the often uncontrolled and undocumented movement of exotic forest germplasm for plantation establishment. Subsequent hybridization between native stands and plantations derived from introduced species or provenances may lead to the loss of genetic identity of local populations in subsequent tree generations. This, in turn, may lead to a loss of local adaptation, and a loss of opportunities to benefit from unique characteristics in future breeding.
4. There is a need to further strengthen forest genetic resources activities at national, regional and international levels to minimise negative impacts and to make better use of existing potentials. Such activities span from exploration, genetic conservation and the incorporation of genetic considerations into the sustainable management of forests and woodlands, to breeding and the informed use of new biotechnologies in forest tree improvement programmes. As many forest tree species are characterized by inherently high levels of diversity and extensive natural ranges which often cross national borders, international cooperation is a prerequisite for effective sampling, evaluation, utilization and conservation of their genetic resources.
5. Given the steadily growing number of national and international organizations involved in forest genetic resources work there is, furthermore, an urgent need to ensure adequate coordination of activities, in order to avoid wasteful overlap and to assure complementarity of efforts at global level.
6. A costed, global programme for the improved use of forest genetic resources covering the five-year period 1975-1979 was endorsed by the third session of the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources in 19741. This programme, which proposed action in the exploration, collection, evaluation, conservation and utilization of forest genetic resources by region, species and lead agency, was only partially implemented due to lack of resources and donor interest at the time. Nevertheless, over the years related research and operational activities were undertaken within its framework in a coordinated manner by the comparatively small group of national and international agencies, institutions and professionals working in this field, who recognized the mutual benefit and increased efficiency which could be derived from such collaboration.
7. Work among international agencies has over the past years concentrated on promoting dialogue and exchange of information on planned and ongoing programmes and projects. With regard to operational work, efforts have been concentrated on the strengthening of national institutes concerned with forest genetic resources issues, and on facilitating networking, twinning and dissemination and exchange of information, technologies and genetic materials on mutually acceptable terms. The FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources has acted as a point of reference for the international community in this regard.
Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources
8. The FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources was established in 1968 at the request of the FAO Conference to: (i) review work carried out in the field of forest genetic resources, world-wide; (ii) examine priorities for action at national, regional, eco-regional and global levels based on up-to-date information received from member countries; and (iii) guided by such information, to make recommendations on the main focus and operational priorities of FAO, with due concern to collaboration, complementarity and coordination of programmes and activities with other international organizations in this field.
9. The 15 members of the Panel, nominated by the Director-General in consultation with countries concerned, are drawn from all regions of the world and cover a broad range of technical and scientific areas pertaining to the field of forest genetic resources. The work of the Panel is assisted by inputs from national institutions which provide information on activities and priorities.
10. Based on country-derived information and the expertise of its members, the Panel regularly compiles and updates regional lists of priority tree species, specifying their main uses and ranking the corresponding priorities for action in exploration, collection, conservation, enhancement and use of their genetic resources. While the priority lists and other technical recommendations are based on priorities of countries, special attention is paid to those species and activities which are important in more than one country and for which recommended action thus has an international dimension.
11. The competence of the Panel and its impartiality are globally recognized. A range of national and international institutions and donor agencies closely follow the deliberations of the Panel, and its recommendations are widely used.
12. Since the establishment of the FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, forest genetic resources have been included within its mandate and the findings of the Panel have been regularly reported to it. The mandate of the Commission has recently been expanded through the establishment of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Conference Resolution 3/95, December 1995). When fully operational, the expanded Commission will deal with all aspects of conservation and sustainable use of agrobiodiversity in its broadest sense, including crop, forest, animal and fish genetic resources (Council Resolution 1/110).
13. The Commission may establish inter-governmental technical sectoral working groups, with appropriate geographical balance, to assist in the areas of crop plant, animal, forestry and fisheries genetic resources2. Furthermore, the Commission may establish such other Subsidiary Bodies as it may deem necessary for the effective discharge of its functions.3
14. Until more definitive arrangements are made, the inter-governmental working group on plant genetic resources, which operated within the framework of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources, is likely to continue to advise the expanded Commission. The main focus of this working group has, traditionally, been on crop genetic resources, and it is likely that this focus will be maintained also in the near future. This being the case, the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources should continue to advise the Commission on issues related to forest genetic resources, as a transitory measure until such time as a more permanent, complementary mechanism is established.
Support to national institutes
15. The work of FAO in forest genetic resources, carried out in line with priorities and recommendations of its member governments under the overall technical and scientific guidance of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources, aims at providing technical and scientific support to national institutes in member countries on the conservation, management, sustainable use and development of forest genetic resources. The backbone of support, which is coordinated with work of international partners, is the transfer of information, know-how and technologies among and between countries through mechanisms of networking and twinning.
Exploration, collection, evaluation of forest genetic resources
16. The first international provenance (seed source) trials, aimed at exploring, conserving and better utilizing the genetic variation in forest trees, were initiated more than 50 years ago under the coordination of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO). This pioneering work, which has been continued over the years by IUFRO in collaboration with FAO and national institutes concerned, focused on economically important tree species of the temperate and boreal zones. Activities have been subsequently extended to socio-economically important species of other ecological zones of the world.
Conservation of genetic resources
17. For many decades, FAO has been active in guiding and advancing methodologies for the conservation of forest genetic resources, including ex situ conservation as seed, pollen, tissue and in live collections. Since the early 1980s, special emphasis has been placed on in situ conservation4. FAO, in collaboration with IPGRI5 and other relevant Centres of the CGIAR6, IUFRO and the DANIDA Forest Seed Centre (Denmark), is currently developing a practical guide to the in situ conservation of forest genetic resources. The guide will complement earlier documents such as Plant Genetic Resources - their genetic conservation in situ for human use (FAO 1989); and Forestry Paper 107, Conservation of genetic resources in tropical forest management - principles and concepts (FAO 1993).
Dissemination of information
18. Since 1993, the Forestry Department of FAO has been developing a Global Information System on Forest Genetic Resources (REFORGEN) in close collaboration with national institutes in member countries and international organizations concerned. Information entered into the REFORGEN database has been provided by member countries in response to a questionnaire on forest genetic resources, complemented by three international workshops (see paragraph 26) and data assembled in preparation of the Leipzig Conference.
19. REFORGEN will help support policy and technical decisions in genetic conservation at national, regional and international levels. It is planned to regularly update the information using mechanisms available to FAO.
20. With the aim of furthering international dialogue on new findings and national experiences and programmes, FAO publishes an annual news bulletin, Forest Genetic Resources. The bulletin, and other relevant information, has recently been made available on the internet, supported by the development of an FAO Home Page on forest genetic resources.
21. In the light of expanding activities and an increasing number of organizations and institutes involved in various aspects of forest genetic resources activities, there is a growing need to collaborate in the development of well-coordinated plans and programmes at global level. Those concerned with forest genetic resources also need to maintain close contacts with other relevant groups within and outside the forestry sector.
22. FAO works closely with a number of regional and bilateral agencies and international organizations, notably UNESCO, UNEP and IUCN. Recently, contacts have also been established with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Such international collaboration should be maintained, expanded and further strengthened.
23. FAO maintains close collaboration with IUFRO and some CGIAR centres (notably IPGRI, CIFOR7 and ICRAF8) and other relevant groups, including universities and national forest research institutes with a major interest and involvement in research related to forest genetic resources. In this regard, FAO plans to collaborate with IUFRO (Division 2) in the organization of an international conference on tree breeding, tentatively scheduled for September 1998.
Technical assistance through field projects
24. FAO collaborates directly with countries through technical assistance projects in seed collection, production, handling and exchange; tree improvement and breeding; conservation of ecosystems and of forest genetic resources in and ex situ; and the integration of genetic conservation aspects into forest management practice and into the management of protected areas. Over the past three years such assistance was provided through some 60 field projects.
The Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources
25. The fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, organized in Leipzig, Germany (17-23 June 1996), within the framework of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, based its deliberations on two main reports: the State of the World's Plant Genetic Resources and the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Use of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. These documents were synthesised from more than 150 country reports and from information provided by 11 regional and sub-regional workshops on plant genetic resources which focused largely, but not exclusively, on crop species.
26. Three international workshops on forest genetic resources were held, in collaboration with FAO, in preparation for the Leipzig Conference:
These workshops provided information on forest genetic resources activities and priorities in the regions covered and possible "models" for similar discussion in other ecological regions.
27. However, the Leipzig Conference adopted a Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture which stated in its introduction: Forestry will not be included in the Global Plan of Action,... on the understanding that this matter could be considered in future, in the light of the work of the Inter-governmental Panel on Forests (IPF) established by the Commission on Sustainable Development on this issue.
A PROPOSED GLOBAL PLAN OF ACTION FOR THE CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE USE OF FOREST GENETIC RESOURCES
28. Forest genetic resources were not explicitly included in the workplan of IPF and were not explicitly addressed by the Panel.
29. The need for a global plan of action for forest genetic resources was stressed by the ninth session of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources (Rome, October 1995). The work done in preparation of the Leipzig Conference and, over the years, by the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources and by national and international institutes, world-wide, provides a solid foundation for such a plan.
30. A global plan of action on forest genetic resources should be urgently developed in close collaboration and consultation with national and international partners, and should aim at facilitating a country-driven process to strengthen and streamline future activities in the field.
31. Such a global plan of action is envisaged to build upon a series of regional action plans. These should be based on the evaluation and analysis of information from all available sources on the status and priorities in forest genetic resources activities at national, regional and international levels, and on a series of regional and eco-regional workshops to be organized on the same lines as those held in 1995 mentioned above.
32. Growing concern for sustainable development has led to calls for action to conserve, manage and sustainably utilize forests, including their genetic resources. Such calls have resulted in a welcome, world-wide strengthening of forest genetic resources programmes. A dynamic, participatory global plan of action for the conservation and sustainable utilization of forest genetic resources should be developed to pursue the dual goals of strengthening existing mechanisms for international collaboration and supporting national forest genetic resources programmes.
33. The Committee may wish to recommend that the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources (paragraphs 8-14) continue to provide advice to the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in its field of competence, at least until such time as the Commission may wish to establish a formal, inter-governmental technical sectoral working group on forest genetic resources. In this regard, the Committee may wish to recommend that the Panel be requested to consider the terms of reference of such a working group at its forthcoming, tenth session (1997).
34. The Committee may wish to recommend that FAO, in consultation with national and international partners, work actively towards the development of a global plan of action for the conservation and sustainable utilization of forest genetic resources (paragraphs 27-31), within the overall framework of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and under the technical and scientific guidance of the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources. It may further wish to recommend that action in this regard be initiated through the organization of a series of regional forest genetic resources workshops in which priorities can be discussed and agreed upon.
1. Proposals for a Global Programme for Improved Use of Forest Genetic Resources. Forest Genetic Resources Information No. 4, pp. 1/54. FAO 1975.
2 . CL 110/Rep, paragraph 3(i)
3. CL 110/Rep, paragraph 5
4. In situ conservation implies the continuing maintenance of a population within the community of which it forms a part, and in the environment to which it is adapted. A major advantage of in situ conservation of forest genetic resources is that, with appropriate management, genetic conservation will normally be compatible with the continued economic utilization of forests.
5. Internationl Plant Genetic Resources Institute
6. Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
7. Centre for International Forestry Research
8. International Centre for Research in Agroforestry