December 1996





Rome, Italy, 10-13 March 1997


Secretariat Note


This paper highlights the major views of FAO's six regional forestry commissions on how the work of the commissions can be strengthened and expanded. It also proposes means to improve the linkage between the commissions and COFO. It calls on COFO to offer its specific guidance on the proposals presented.


1. The Committee on Forestry (COFO) is the primary statutory body of the FAO Council that deals with forestry matters. COFO is a high-level global policy forum that identifies emerging forestry issues, calls attention to progress and achievements in the forestry sector, and calls for action to address priority problems. COFO's recommendations are directed at governments, the donor community, international organizations, FAO and others. Recommendations addressed to FAO are placed before the Council and, once adopted, are incorporated into the Organization's forestry programmes in line with available resources.

2. At the regional level, six FAO regional forestry commissions (one each for Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East and North America) serve as policy and technical fora in much the same way as COFO at the global level.

3. At its twelfth session in March 1995, COFO recommended that FAO make efforts to strengthen and expand the work of the regional commissions and to improve the linkage among them as well as between the commissions and COFO. As a result, the Forestry Department prepared a note on strengthening the commissions, which was presented at all the forestry commission sessions of 1996 for consultation. The matter was discussed by the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission (AFWC) under other business as the secretariat note had not been finalized at the time of the its meeting (1995).

4. This document reports the forestry commissions' responses and recommendations regarding a more active role on their part, and includes proposals for COFO's consideration. All FAO Statutory Bodies are presently under review by the Council as part of the approach to Achieving Savings and Efficiencies in Governance.


Member country attendance of commission sessions

5. Strengthening the role of regional commissions requires the effective participation of member countries in their sessions and continuity of action between sessions. The European Forestry Commission (EFC) and the North America Forestry Commission (NAFC) are those that best comply with this requirement. Due to financial constraints, the other commissions face greater difficulties in member country participation and maintaining appropriate inter-sessional activity. The Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC), Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission (LACFC) and Near East Forestry Commission (NEFC) each emphasized the need to find ways to finance member countries' participation in their biennial meetings to ensure that all member countries be represented. In particular, the twelfth session of NEFC, with only nine member countries present out of 20, recommended that financial support be sought from the donor community and ongoing FAO projects.

6. In expressing its concern over member country participation in its sessions, the APFC considered that the importance of the current international forestry issues and the challenges posed by rapid regional deforestation called for greater participation of countries and the presence of their top-ranking forestry officials. The commission recommended that its own members take it upon themselves to ensure that the commission's work was sufficiently important and interesting to attract and involve all member countries.

Preparing future commission agendas

7. The commissions felt that agenda topics themselves should be key incentives to member country participation and recommended that changes be introduced to the agenda preparation procedures. NEFC recommended that in future the agenda be prepared by the bureaux of regional forestry commissions, in consultation with FAO and the member countries. It also recommended that each session deal with technical subjects of special interest to the member countries. For its part, APFC suggested that procedures be adopted for the forward planning of all commission activities. In turn, LACFC recommended that the agenda for its sessions be prepared in collaboration with subregional groups that have been set up in the region.

Inter-sessional activities

8. LACFC, NEFC, APFC and AFWC acknowledged the advisability of improving inter-sessional activity. In this connection, LACFC recommended that its member countries and FAO establish subregional mechanisms to enable the commission to operate between sessions. It suggested that four working groups be set up to reflect subregional realities and identified a number of work topics for these groups. NEFC pointed out that the diversity of conditions among its member countries made identification of priorities for inter-sessional work difficult. NAFC recommended that FAO assist the commissions by drawing up a global forestry strategy that would help them to plan and coordinate their regional work.

Other recommendations and suggestions

9. The commissions proposed other measures and options, the most noteworthy being that: NGOs be allowed to sit in on commission meetings; information exchange between commissions be increased; the development of communication technologies be put to best use in the commissions' work and ongoing mutual consultation; technical experts be exchanged between commissions; and study groups be established on specific issues of regional relevance (following the example of NAFC).

10. Finally, the commissions recognized that many conditions in EFC and NAFC member countries were relatively similar, making inter-sessional activity and the identification of issues for working group attention somewhat easier. In contrast, they considered that the ecological and socio-economic diversity that existed among the member countries of NEFC, APFC, AFWC and LACFC made this process more difficult and suggested, therefore, that subregional groups be formed for problem analysis, policy recommendation and the monitoring of new issues under discussion.


11. One of the commissions' principal functions is to identify regional issues and relay these to bodies operating at global level, such as COFO. In order to achieve closer interaction between the commissions and COFO, a number of suggestions are submitted here for COFO to consider:


Relations between the commissions and COFO:


Submit to COFO's attention issues arising out of the commissions' work and sessions that are of special relevance because of their global or regional implications. As part of COFO preparatory work, the commission bureaux could be asked to help prepare the agenda and other input for COFO. This would require that the next session of the six regional commissions be held before September 1998, if the commission bureaux were to be able to prepare advice to the fourteenth session of COFO in 1999.


Consider the possibility that each commission establish a minimum inter-sessional work programme. This would be based on priority themes pertinent to the main groups of countries within the commissions. These priorities would focus on medium- and long-term issues, consider specific goals and include monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Informational reports on progress could be made to COFO.


Strengthening COFO's analytical role: identifying new issues with long-term policy implications


Strengthen COFO's policy analysis function by making more systematic use of the commissions' unique ability to identify regional issues with long-term global policy implications. FAO's resulting follow-up could then receive support from commissions' study groups. This could include, for example, analytical reports that could serve as a basis for special FAO publications, such as the State of the world's forests (SOFO).


Strengthen COFO's role as a global policy forum by requesting regional commissions to test, implement and further elaborate certain COFO recommendations through regional seminars or other means. Such an approach could be strengthened by encouraging work in these subject areas by academic and research centres as well as through the programme for technical cooperation among developing countries.


12. COFO may wish to respond to the specific proposals presented on how to strengthen the commissions and their linkage to COFO.