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A world perspective: Forestry beyond 2000

This paper was prepared by staff of FAO's Forestry Department for the discussion of future perspectives in forestry at the Seventh Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO) in Rome, 7-11 May 1984. The work was coordinated by P.A. Wardle, Senior Officer (Economics) Policy and Planning Service.

FORESTRY IN ECUADOR, 1966 what changes are foreseen after 2000?

The forests of the world provide a renewable source of materials, energy and services for nations and communities, contributing to their social and economic well-being and forming a vital component of their environment. In all these functions they are of major importance.

Four thousand million hectares, one-third of the world's land area, are under forest, constituting a major proportion of the environment in many regions. The annual production of wood from the forests is some 3000 million m3. Nearly half of this is raw material for mechanical wood products or for paper. These products are vital materials for housing, construction, furniture, packaging and communications. Somewhat more than half of the wood is used directly for energy. Other forest products include fruits, gums or resins, fodder and the meat of wild animals. These are of vital importance to rural communities in many parts of the world and also form the basis of significant industries.

The importance of forest products can also be measured by the involvement of people - the people employed in the harvesting, manufacture and delivery of the products, and those who depend on the products for a part of their material well-being. Some 1-2 percent of total economic activity in most countries is contributed by the forest and forest industries sector, while in countries with a heavy dependence on wood in production or energy supply this figure may rise to 5 percent or higher.

The number of people with direct dependence on forest products can be illustrated by the 2000 million rural people who depend on wood supplies for their domestic energy and the more than 200 million living in the forests. There are also the vast populations of agriculturists downstream whose lives are affected by flood and siltation of rivers and reservoirs as a result of treatment of mountain forests. Similarly, the lives of farmers in arid zones and their ability to produce are determined by the treatment of the fragile woodland ecology that prevents erosion and controls the advance of the desert.

A perspective In the short term, because of the extensive nature of forests, the impact of activities altering their condition is not immediately apparent. The forest is too often perceived as a stock resource, a free good, with the land as something freely available for conversion to other uses without recognition of the consequences for the production, service and environmental roles of the forest. Definitive action, particularly investment in forestry, has a long gestation period. For these reasons, perspectives of the contribution of forests to society and the economy have to be projected for long periods into the future to provide a basis for policy makers to formulate appropriate reaction to emerging trends.

In the 1950s and 1960s, identification of the trend to rapid growth in consumption of forest products in Europe, North America and Japan assisted the forest authorities in developing programmes of reinvestment and built up confidence in industry to invest. It required the oil shock of 1973 to force recognition of the importance of forests as a source of energy to rural communities. Even had low energy prices persisted, there would have been little possibility for these communities of substituting commercial energy alternatives. The world community is still in the process of recognizing institutional constraints in many regions that force the profligate destruction of forest without securing a compensatory, sound, productive use either of the wood or of the land.

The forests of the world constitute a vital source of material, of energy and of other goods. They form an essential component of the environment of people and their agriculture. Beyond the year 2000, the pressures of population and urbanization and a limited land resource present an immense challenge. To meet the increasing need for the products of the forest and to secure its service - in conserving soil and water and natural communities - require the utilization of people to pursue these objectives, the development of skills and the evolution of an appropriate institutional environment for the effective operation of forests and forest industries. This article deals with the global perspective in that light.

The setting

The world's population is expected to increase from 4400 million in 1980 to around 6100 million by the year 2000. UN projections indicate a range of possible levels of stabilization of population, with a low variant of 8000 million by 2040, a medium variant of 10500 million by 2110 and a high variant of 14200 million by 2130. A feature of projected population to the year 2000 is the higher rate of growth of urban than of rural population. Thus, up to the year 2000, half the increase of population in developing countries will occur in urban areas.

The economic scenarios put forward by international agencies indicate an annual economic growth of developing countries in the range of 5 to 6 percent over the period toward 2000, with growth in industrial countries ranging between 2.5 and 5 percent, and a central case of 3.5 percent. With these assumptions, one-fifth of the people of developing countries will be living below the poverty line in the year 2000, unless the pattern of growth is modified to place more emphasis on poverty alleviation. More ambitious scenarios are also put forward which would go further toward alleviating the deprivation of the least privileged communities.

In these scenarios, world consumption of commercial energy is projected to increase by some 2 percent per year, combined with a I long-run trend in real price increases of about 1.5 percent per annum. The proportion of petroleum in the total falls while natural gas, solid fuels and electricity all increase.

Studies of the population-supporting capacities of land indicate that pressures on land will increase in many areas. Though the world as a whole should have enough cultivable land to feed more than the maximum population it is ever likely to have to support with the application of present technology, the land resources are very unevenly distributed in relation to population. It also has to be borne in mind that the provision of land to grow wood for fuel is essential to meet the basic needs of the population in many regions of the world, since food must be cooked as well as grown. Achievement of the higher agricultural production needed will be attained through higher yields per unit of land in some areas, but it will also involve considerable expansion of arable land in others, at the expense of other land uses. This expansion will be greater with lower levels of technology and with associated losses of cropland and production through land degradation. At high levels of technology, the additional land area required would be less and the losses through land degradation would be more contained. The achievement of high levels of technology would be associated with more ambitious scenarios of economic development and access to institutions, infrastructure, training and capital.

Products of the forest

The driving force behind the consumption of the products of the forest is provided by human needs, wants and desires for goods and services, and by people's preferences among those available under the constraints of the limited resources at their disposal. The products of the forest may be divided between those of the traditional sector - fuelwood, wood for charcoal, poles, posts, fodder, fruits and extractives used by local communities without industrial processing - and the modern sector manufactures such as sawnwood, panels, paper and energy for industry.

Demand from subsistence farmers and rural communities operating outside the traditional market economy for traditional subsistence products will continue and almost certainly grow. This consumption tends to be dependent on virtually free availability of the forest supply, involving only the cost of household labour in its collection and use. Maintenance of supplies for the future increasingly depends on the ability to maintain forest production locally within the context of the traditional economy of the community.

Demand for forest products has been predicted to increase proportionally with population growth, but, in practice, consumption will be limited by the availability of supplies, as these are exhausted if collection and exploitation occur without renewal of the tree resource. Thus, the annual minimum need for fuelwood by the year 2000 has been estimated at 2600 million m3, while the supply capacity, taking account of population distribution, is put at 1500 million m3. This will result either in lower levels of per caput consumption of energy or in energy needs being met with alternative fuels. A similar maldistribution of supply would apply to wood as a material and to the other products of the forest for local subsistence use.

The issue beyond 2000 is whether the best solution for these communities is the massive harnessing of their resources in order to renew local forest supplies, or whether the effort should be focused upon securing access to alternative sources of energy and materials. Present indicators of future prospects for international energy suggest that the renewal of forest supplies should be given urgent priority in many regions.

Diversity The diversity of products other than wood has a potential to enrich the lives of rural communities, by contributing to basic food supply and nutritional standards, and to supply materials for a wide range of local industries. The development and use of these products provide opportunities for useful employment and economic production with little dependence on external inputs, while the production of the raw material is largely complementary to agricultural production and the production of wood in the forest.

Considering modern sector products, the perspective of the FAO study Agriculture: toward 2000 indicates continued growth in world demand at rates of 1.5 percent for sawnwood and 4 to 5 percent for panels and paper. Growth is put at substantially higher rates for developing countries.

The main features of the development of technology have been increased use of wood in a reconstituted form - in panels, for example - as against simply processed sawnwood; expansion of the use of wood in paper manufacture; increased efficiency in the utilization of raw material through the use of residuals from one process as raw material for other products as well as for energy generation; and recycling of used products such as waste paper. An area with notable potential for improved utilization efficiency is the use of wood as domestic fuel. The indications are that wood is a very resilient source of raw material for a wide range of products. It has the advantage of relatively low energy requirements for the production of structural components in comparison with other materials such as aluminium, and considerable flexibility in the development of new forms of products, an example being the development of particle board since the 1950s. It is thus a raw material that is well able to compete with other basic materials.

With continuing economic expansion, the expectation is for continued growth in the demand for modern-sector forest products. It is likely that the rate of expansion will be greater in developing countries than in industrialized countries, mainly because of the rapid growth in their urban population.

Services of the forest

TERRACING FOR REFORESTATION WORK the global need for new trees is monumental

Certain features have particular relevance to the service functions of forests. Population increase, the increased economic well-being of that population, and urbanization are accompanied by increases in the demand for various types of services.

There will, for example, be concern that there should be improved control of water resources: greater output, better regulation of water flow in river basins, better control of damaging siltation, and increased demand for protection of agricultural production capability. Population and economic trends generate directly conflicting forces - the need for conversion of forest land to use for agricultural production, which leads to the continuation, under low-technology agriculture, of land-use practices directly damaging to the conservation of soil and water. This, in turn, reduces the forest's capability to regulate and control erosion, an important factor in maintaining agricultural production.

The environmental aspects of forestry will no doubt receive greater attention from local populations and decision makers alike in view of the derived benefits of and greater requirements for "clean" air and water. With increasingly numerous erosion hazards, particularly on steep slopes and marginal lands, the contribution of forestry to erosion control, soil conservation, watershed protection, stream flow regulation and dune fixation increases in importance.

GOVERNMENT SAWMILL IN NEW ZEALAND how many are needed In the developing world?

The need for appropriately managed, naturally woody vegetation types - shelterbelts and windbreaks, woodlots and other forest plantations on agricultural and pasture lands will be increasingly recognized as an essential basis for increasing soil productivity and thereby improving food supply and agricultural employment and income. At the same time, there will be more need for forestry measures in the protection of public facilities. The protection of roads in mountainous areas affected by landslides and gully erosion, the prevention of silting in canals and reservoirs, and the protection of human settlements against floods through river control will require greater inputs from forestry.

Certain major environmental issues relate to atmospheric pollution and the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The burning of forests no doubt contributes to the second, though the main source of both effects is the use of fossil fuels by industry. Growing forests contribute to the reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide and may have a significant in forming absorptive barriers to atmospheric pollutants.

A current issue is the damaging effect of air-borne pollutants on the growth of existing forests. It is unclear whether, with appropriate forest management, these will remain significant for the performance of the various roles of the forest.

The maintenance of natural flora and fauna is dependent upon the conservation and management of adequate and representative samples of ecosystems, which will essentially ensure in situ conservation of genetic resources, for both plant and animal species. Forestry species are generally "stored" in living collections, both in situ and ex situ (complementary, whenever possible). Forestry works with "wild" species and aims at keeping the genetic base as broad as possible; selection or genetic improvement is always done in populations specially created for this purpose, leaving the conservation and base populations with maximum variation. Thus, new material can be injected into the breeding populations in the future to meet changing needs. It is important to increase investments in collection, exploration and evaluation work on naturally occurring forest species.

Wildlife and wildlands management and conservation are expected to receive greater attention as effective means for the rehabilitation of degraded habitats, and as essential contributions to food security and to the provision of outdoor recreation. With the trend toward increased availability of leisure time in the industrial countries, and toward greater requirement of recreation on the part of the world population as a whole, there will be a high claim on forestry to provide recreational services. The worldwide urbanization process will lead to a focus on the use of trees and forests for their amenity value and landscape management. While the immediate requirements for action seem to lie more in the northern hemisphere of the world, there is no doubt that the need for action and decision-making is also growing in certain parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa.

A major question for forestry beyond 2000 is whether plantation forestry increasingly replace natural forests as the source of raw material.

There appears to be a substantial movement toward the decentralization of decision-making relative to operational activity in the forest.

The forest resource

The 4000 million ha of forests are distributed among the temperate zone, with 2050 million ha, of which about 1650 million are closed forests; the tropical zone, which has some 1200 million ha of closed forests and 550 million ha of open woodland; and the arid zone, which contains some 300 million ha of forests, mainly open woodland. There are, in addition, around 1000 million ha classified under other uses than forest with some shrubs or woody vegetation.

The forest area in the temperate zone is more or less stable, with a relatively high rate of renewal through afforestation and reforestation. The forest area in tropical and arid regions, on the other hand, is subject to considerable human pressure and is diminishing at a rate that has been estimated to be on average about 0.6 percent per annum. Afforestation and reforestation proceed at a rate around one-tenth that of deforestation.

A major question for forestry beyond 2000 is whether plantation forestry will increasingly replace natural forests as the source of raw material. A second fundamental question concerns the role of community, household and farm-tree growing as sources of fuelwood and industrial wood raw material.

The projected increase in demand for forest products would place considerable pressure on the remaining forest resources by the year 2000 and is likely to result in an increased cost of supply in both tropical and temperate regions, providing both a challenge and an opportunity for forestry.

To meet the long-term growth in demand, very considerable investment in tree-growing is necessary. To be economically efficient, this requires accompanying improvement in the genetic composition of the trees planted and improvement in the silvicultural techniques, investment needs to be matched not only to the variety of growing environments as determined by soil and climate but also to the different management situations dedicated plantations or forestry integrated with agriculture and other functions - as well as to the ultimate end-use: timber, woody biomass, fodder or service functions.

The forest resource

Supplies for industry

The demand for industrial wood products is expected to grow as economies grow, and the rate of growth is likely to be greatest in developing countries.

The ability to supply the products to meet this demand has to be seen in relation to the constraints on supply. First among these are those imposed by features of the forest resource. In the temperate zone, where there is a tendency toward increased supply cost, the forest resource is increasingly yielding raw material with smaller sizes, less attractive species, more distant supply areas and areas with more difficult working conditions. An increasing proportion of raw material is derived from plantations involving investment of resources in growing the timber. This tendency to increased cost may be partially offset by improved harvesting, transport and processing technology and fuller utilization of raw material.

The rising real cost of energy has several implications for the wood manufacturing industry. First, the demand for wood as a source of energy increases competition for I wood supplies. Second, it increases the cost of production of wood products, leading to consideration of ways of economizing in energy consumption in production, including the recycling of process residues to generate energy. Third, it will enhance the competitiveness of wood as a material in so far as the energy cost of production is relatively low. High energy costs may favour location of processing plants near to the raw material source in order to benefit from economies in transport costs, particularly if wood itself is a viable source of energy for the industry.

Technology is already available for the extraction of fuels and wood chemicals, either directly from wood raw material or from by-products of wood manufacturing. Expected advances in biotechnology should greatly enhance the competitive position of wood cellulose as a base for the production of liquid and gas fuels.

The sawnwood and plywood industries are capable of reasonable efficiency over a wide range of scale of operation, with increasing scale and capital intensity being related to increasing labour costs and larger markets. These industries can operate competitively on a small scale where markets are small, or they can seek products that may be supplied individually or in small production runs. They are therefore the first to develop in the rural areas of most countries.

Industries involving reconstitution of the wood raw material - particle board, fibreboard and pulp and paper - tend to be capital-intensive and relatively sophisticated in the technological sense. They place heavier demands on infrastructure and benefit from concentration to support maintenance and the supply of complex equipment and specialized material inputs. They will tend to succeed where the domestic market for their products is reasonably large and where the specialized inputs on which they depend are available at reasonable prices.

There is a place for small-scale pulp and paper manufacture, but with existing technology it will tend to be based on the less complex processing required in utilizing waste paper and various agricultural residues rather than wood. Such manufacturing plants will tend to be urban or in agricultural centres.

The substantial capital investment involved in the development of efficient large-scale processing requires a stable market for the products and a regular supply of inputs, both wood raw material and other materials. Given these preconditions, there remain the risks arising from the coincidence of startup problems and economic recession. This reinforces the consideration that large-scale operations will be most appropriate where they are supported by an adequate domestic market, both to absorb production and to carry the costs of financing.

Forest industries have environmental impacts ranging from the disturbance of ecological balance and soil stability through harvesting operations and road construction to the environmental problems of effluents and emissions. Failure to meet high environmental standards may have harmful effects downstream and across international boundaries. These can be reduced by sound management and good design, but acceptable levels of control will usually require substantial investment in special facilities and technology, adding to the cost of the end-products. High standards of control are equally appropriate in countries at every stage of development.

To maintain the competitive position of the forest products industries in the face of increasing supply costs, and to meet both the growing aspirations of those employed and competition from other materials or operational methods, will require continuous development at all stages of production and product development to adjust to market requirements. This means an adequate investment in research and development. Because of the predominance of small firms, present levels of research input throughout the forest products industry are relatively low and the industry is characterized by a marked degree of conservatism.

In the developing countries, there are the additional problems of building up a technically competent work-force at all levels and the accumulation of experience. A major problem is to identify a means to accelerate the process of acquiring the technological, managerial and entrepreneurial competence and to channel it into effective production. Choices will have to be made from among several different ways of achieving this end: learning by experience, training or education; bringing in technical expertise; setting up joint venture operations; or the involvement of firms bringing the needed technology from abroad.

Table 1. Forest products consumption, 1980 and 2000 (Wood: millions of m3; paper: millions of tonnes)


Developing countries

Developed countries
























Industrial roundwood








































Table 2. Imports and exports of forest products, 1980 (in millions of US dollars)






North America









Far East developing countries



African developing countries



Latin America



All developed countries



All developing countries






Trade and markets

Trade is a major component in the activity of the forest sector, and forest products are important in international trade, constituting 2.5 percent of world trade, 20 percent of the total agricultural products trade and 10 percent of the agricultural exports of developing countries. The real growth of trade in forest products over the past two decades has been at the average annual rate of about 6 percent, while developing country exports have grown at 7 percent. Developing countries have moved from the position of net importers of forest products to a position where their total trade is in balance or slightly positive.

The principal trade flows are the internal ones within Europe and Japan and the flows of exports from Canada to the United States. Major flows from the developing countries are the exports of logs from the Far East to Japan and other East Asian countries and from Africa to Europe, and the exports of sawnwood and plywood from Far Eastern countries to the United States and Europe There has been a significant flow of logs in recent years from the USSR and North America to Japan, while the log exports of Far East producers have diminished.

The composition of exports on a world basis has remained broadly constant, with trade in roundwood making up about 15 percent of total export value. The value of developing countries, unprocessed roundwood exports has moved from 55 percent of their total wood product exports in 1960 to around 45 percent in 1980. Though the general level of forest product prices in real terms has fluctuated around a constant base, the real price of tropical products in international trade has risen appreciably over the last decade.

With the growth in demand for forest products, it is to be expected that the volume of trade will expand further. There will be a tendency for increased interdependence between countries and regions, certain regions becoming increasingly dependent on trade to meet deficits in resource capacity.

The historical tendency has been for resource-rich countries initially to export unprocessed roundwood but then to move upmarket through the development of a processing industry to serve both domestic and export markets. It is to be expected that this tendency will continue, with countries taking restrictive measures on roundwood outflows in order to secure the availability of raw material for the expansion of domestic industry.

The movement toward a greater proportion of trade being in manufactured products, and toward further processing and the manufacture of tertiary products, requires a supporting advance in infrastructure This means improved transport networks permitting the easy transport of inputs to the industry and finished products to the consumer It will involve improved communications to permit the efficient transfer of information, the development of marketing information networks and marketing organizations, and the establishment of reliable linking networks between the producers and the consumers.

A NEPALESE NURSERY growing trees for the twenty-first century

The full participation of developing countries in international trade is dependent on their ability to develop appropriate industrial capacity. This will be easiest where there is a strong domestic market. It will be facilitated by the absence of restrictive measures depressing their ability to compete in the international market and would further benefit from mechanisms to limit sharp fluctuations through intervention by external suppliers in their domestic markets. The effective protection provided by tariffs and quotas on manufactured wood products remains at highly restrictive levels in many major markets. The increasing dependence of major market areas on external supplies would seem to favour reduction of trade barriers rather than the continued protection of an industry made less viable by its lack of opportunity to expand.

Forestry and people

Forestry is for people. It must determine what their needs are and how people move toward the fulfilment of these needs. A first concern is the correct identification of matters of real priority. These are not necessarily those generated by the conventional wisdom prevailing at any one time. Next comes the need to obtain people's recognition that laissez-faire may be inadequate in securing the fulfillment of their needs.

In many countries, a major issue threatening the ability of the forest sector to contribute in any of its several roles is the problem of ownership of the forest. Historically, forest ownership was frequently vested in the state, creating a form of residual land use. With the passage of time, the growth of population pressure and changes of regime, there has developed a tendency to regard such land as a form of common property and to regard the custodians of the forest as the guardians of an alien and obsolete regime. This sometimes has the consequence that the forest is simply occupied and transformed into de facto private property through another, usually agricultural, use. In other cases the forest degenerates into a degraded common, with all users removing what they can but no one caring for future production. This is a problem that can be solved only by a major reconstruction of relevant arrangements, involving both the local community and the central agencies of government charged with responsibility for the forest.

There appears to be a substantial movement toward the decentralization of decision-making relative to operational activity in the forest, whether to local community organizations or to local private ownership. It has to be recognized, however, that the performance of certain functions of the forest may not be in the immediate interest of a local owner; watershed protection, wildlife preservation and investment in reforestation are examples. Thus, an essential corollary of devolution is the formation of clear policy objectives and of supporting legislation to ensure that local entities contribute toward the general good as well as to their own needs.

The effective performance of the forestry sector's functions requires a technical capability to carry them out. This requires an infrastructure of education and training, including forest worker training and vocational training. In the case of developing countries, this calls for massive investment in institutions and people. For education to be fully effective, whether in developed or developing countries, there is a need for revision and extension of curricula to focus on the priority needs of the sector. The dynamic development of technical competence to carry out the needed forestry activities requires investment in forestry research, in- forest industry methods and products, in service functions and in the social area.

Major issues and implications

The problem of ensuring the protection of agricultural land provided by the forests will become increasingly critical beyond the year 2000 as pressures on the land base continue to grow. It has to be expected that some forest land will continue to be transferred to agricultural use to meet the needs for increased agricultural production. It is essential to ensure that this transfer is treated in such a way as to ensure the most efficient combination of agricultural production and forestry for production and protection. This involves technical inputs of monitoring and land evaluation and the development of joint forestry and agricultural utilization of the land.

There is likely to be a larger population in the twenty-first century than at present, as well as a still large population of rural poor, for many of whom the most likely economic source of energy will be tree biomass and crop wastes. A major concern in the light of present depletion is to ensure the necessary organization and investment of land and effort in tree-growing programmes to meet the needs of these people.

Conservation of flora and fauna and of genetic resources becomes a matter of policy and management as the pressure on limited forest and land resources increases. The protective, conservation and service functions of the forest will increasingly be matters for careful management and investment as the greater demand for such benefits impinges on a decreasing area of forest.

Success in meeting the demand for products will depend on the capability of forest industries to continue the extended utilization of diverse forms of wood raw material. Productive efficiency will have to improve in order to overcome increased supply costs of raw material and energy, and flexibility in the development of products will be required to meet changing needs and competition from other types of material.

Industrial development will have to meet social requirements about location and appropriate technology in support of local economies, and to meet environmental standards in respect of its products and operations.

A major effort of investment in infrastructure, education and training will be involved in building up the level of forest industry required to meet the needs of developing countries. A major investment in marketing infrastructure, communications and skills will also be involved in the expansion of the role of the forestry sector.

Perhaps the aspect of greatest importance in fostering this long-term activity is the institutional one, establishing a perception of the urgency of the need for action and convincing people to act. With this goes the enormous effort required to develop a feasible institutional environment for effective forestry, and then to build up the trained personnel to invest, operate and manage the forests and forest industries.

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