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Forestry and the crisis in Africa

Forestry and the crisis in Africa

This issue of Unasylva focuses on Africa. A large part of the continent has been overrun by drought in successive years, and millions of people are exposed to hunger and malnutrition. In many African countries, cultivation is because of hunger - rapidly expanding into forest land and areas of low rainfall. This process, coupled with necessarily unmanaged exploitation for fuelwood, fodder and other basic goods and services that forests and trees provide, has led to a progressively increasing rate of deforestation. That has brought about general environmental degradation and instability and, in their wake, depletion of the resource base and even desertification over vast areas of land.

Against this background, five thematic articles in this issue have been devoted to explaining the place of forestry, forests and trees in development, especially in the light of their contribution to environmental conservation and food security. They show that there is growing awareness of the fundamental role of forestry in providing humankind with some of the essentials for survival - fuel for cooking, building materials for shelter, fodder for livestock and protection for crops. The contribution of forestry to development can be fully realized, however, only if forests are effectively managed for development and the rural poor share fully in the benefits that can flow from forestry's potential.

One of FAO's main thrusts in assisting its member countries to alleviate and prevent such crises is action at the national level. Hence this issue of Unasylva features a review of the first 40 years of FAO's forestry field operations. This review illustrates the considerable increase in FAO's forestry field programme in recent years, its role in development, and its evolving philosophy. It shows that the programme has responded effectively to the diverse needs of the member countries.

This responsiveness has been demonstrated in the evolution of the content and modus operandi of the forestry field programme, with its new emphasis on the promotion of rural development and environmental management, and the changeover from the concept of technical assistance to one of technical cooperation. The forestry field projects in Africa in their diversity and impact stand as an example for the entire programme. However, as this issue of Unasylva also shows, there is need and scope for more to be done.

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