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World forestry in perspective

An interview with C.H. Murray, Assistant Director-General, FAO

At the end of his first year as head of the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Assistant Director-General C.H. Murray reflects on the challenges and opportunities facing world forestry. (Interview conducted by Unasylva Editor Stephen A. Dembner)

C.H. Murray, Assistant Director-General, FAO

Unasylva. First of all, from your vantage point as head of the Forestry Department of the leading UN agency for agriculture and rural development, what do you see as the major challenges facing world forestry in the 1990s?

Murray. The world forestry situation today is an interesting mixture of opportunities and problems. The challenge facing the forestry sector globally has never been more serious, but at the same time the general understanding and appreciation of the role of the forest have never been better. Hence, the forestry sector and foresters have an opportunity that has never been presented before, and probably will never come again. The ground is fertile, there is clear expectation of advances in dealing with the problems we are facing. It behoves the foresters and the managers of the sector to exert themselves to the utmost to make serious attempts to confront the problems.

How can one categorize the issues before us? As we come to the end of the twentieth century and begin to look forward to the next, there are four specific issues that I feel we must focus upon: land use and the reconciliation of competing objectives; the question of the environment, which is only just beginning to be understood and will unquestionably loom larger; international trade as it affects forestry and forest products; and of course social issues, because in the final analysis the underlying objective is neither to benefit the foresters nor the powers that be, but rather the people who populate this soon to be overcrowded planet.

Unasylva. Let's deal with each of those four points in a little more detail. First of all, land use. We are in a situation where the developed countries are producing more than they need while at the same time, in the developing countries, forests are coming under tremendous pressure from people simply trying to make ends meet.

Murray. In fact, the question of land use is one of the great paradoxes of our time. While the developed countries are taking highly publicized and only partially successful measures to reduce their cropland area in an attempt to curb their surplus of agricultural produce, the forests of the developing world are being destroyed largely, although not exclusively, to meet the everyday basic needs for food and fuel of increasing rural populations.

Having said this, let me hasten to add that the solution cannot be found in the forests alone, but rather requires an integrated approach to land use planning. In this respect the forester needs to collaborate with the agriculturist, the sociologist, etc. in a true multidisciplinary approach. We need to look at the resource as a whole and not just at the forestry subsector in isolation. There are hundreds of forestry plans that languish in cupboards and on shelves because these plans totally ignored the wider reality.

In this connection, I would refer to the expression of concern over this aspect on the part not only of FAO but of the international community at large, which led eventually to the launching of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP). Suffice it to say that one of the basic principles of the TFAP process is that the planning for the forestry subsector must be consonant and closely interrelated with the overall socio-economic development plans of the nation.

Unasylva. You also refer to environmental concerns as a major issue for forestry in the decade, and you note that we are just at the beginning of an understanding in that field. Where do you feel the most significant battle lines will be drawn in terms of environmental issues in forestry? Will they be in developed or developing countries?

Murray. I would prefer not to discuss the issue in terms of battle lines, but the fact is that concern for the environment is of global relevance. The developed countries have their own sources of environmental damage-acid rain, industrial wastes, heavy consumption of carbon fuels, etc. In the developing countries, concern over industrial pollution has not been expressed to dale simply because it is not relevant to the immediate needs of the majority of the people; but now the heavy destruction of forest land is being recognized as an enormous threat to the environment.

The point is that growing populations require an expansion of agricultural production. Part of this can be met by increased productivity from land that is currently under cultivation, but part of this need will have to be met by the transfer of forest land to agricultural use. The issue is how to ensure that the land which is transferred is, in fact, suitable for sustained cultivation, and that as this transfer takes place, trees continue to play a role in farming systems.

Unasylva. How would you characterize the importance of social issues in forestry development?

Murray. Social issues are fundamental. It is important to remember that the forests ale in the true sense of the word, a primordial resource. That is to say, at one time the entire global population was made up of forest dwellers, deriving benefits-direct and indirect-from this natural resource. In fact, those people who are still true forest dwellers in the original sense, by and large live in complete harmony with their natural environment. They know exactly how to utilize it without destroying it. The forest dwellers of the Amazon are an example that comes to mind.

In many civilizations, for example, the system of fallow has been used for centuries if not millennia. In fact, in a situation of plentiful land the fallow system is eminently sustainable. But where you have more people than the available land can support in a fallow system, depletion of the resource and thus of its productive capacity is inevitable.

What has happened is that man has become "civilized" and then "industrialized". This has had the effect of moving the so-called civilized man so far from his original environment that there is a great deal of ignorance about nature even among relatively well-read people.

In the developing world, the situation is even more critical because so great a percentage of the population is rural and they depend much more than has been realized in the past on the goods and services of the forest for their very existence.

Then we look at the rural poor who are on the fringes of the forest. They are not forest dwellers in the original sense, and they are not urbanized. Instead, they are farmers trying to make a living by converting forest resources to agricultural lands.

If the pressure is to be relieved we have to look increasingly beyond the forest; but for those who remain dependent on the forest, we have to involve them more and more in its conservation and utilization. People will only preserve and protect the forest when they perceive it as more valuable to them as forest than under some other form of land use.

What it comes down to is ensuring that the local community is provided with the means to obtain the basic necessities for their survival and development. Here the FAO Forestry Department has been doing pioneering work for some years now with its Community Forestry Programme. Through community forestry, we are aiming at reversing the situation of the past in which bright young professionals from the cities assisted by forest guards went to tell the people in rural communities what was good for them. Instead, through the process of consultation and two-way communication at the local level, people are being informed about and involved in the management of the land and the forest so that they are both participants in and beneficiaries of the protection of the resource.

In my early years as a forester, much time and effort were devoted to devising codes and enforcing laws aimed at keeping people out of the forest. Today the concern is how to ensure that rural people can satisfy their needs for the goods and services of the forests on a sustainable basis.

Unasylva. To pick up on the question of international trade-certainly we are seeing a lot of attention focused on this aspect of forestry right now. Why is that the case?

Murray. International trade has always been a very important element of the relationships between countries, and has become more so recently. It is in trade that we see the basic differences in outlook between the developed north and the developing south. This is particularly true in the case of forestry, including trade of both amber and highly processed products such as pulp and paper.

The more the developing countries of the world seek to flex their industrial trade muscles, the more these differences in point of view come to the fore. Here it is important to note the major international efforts in this area, for example, UNCTAD and the Punta del Este declaration, and the ongoing Uruguay Round of negotiations of GATT on natural based products. All of these aim as far as possible to encourage the free interchange of goods and more effective development of international trade.

In this connection it might be opportune to refer to well-meaning suggestions whereby, as a means of slowing down the destruction of forests, some organizations or interest groups have been advocating actions such as the banning of the importation of timber from developing to developed countries. I am certain these suggestions are well-meaning but, in fact, if these proposals were to be pursued they would be counterproductive. Why? First, the figures show that the greatest part of the destruction of the forests is not caused by logging, nor by the expansion of the timber trade. On the contrary, most of the destruction is caused by poor people who, denied access to good agricultural land or other means of providing for themselves and their families, have no choice but to clear forest in an attempt to eke out an existence.

Second, I have to repeat that the forest is a renewable resource, to be used to the greatest extent possible, so long as this is in a sound manner. Timber, like other resources, has value, and by barring timber imports from countries for which timber is a major source of export revenue, we would in fact aggravate the very problem we are trying to solve. We would cut off a source of revenue at both national and local levels, and the possibility of further investment in forest resource protection and management.

Unasylva. One of the advantages forestry has had so far over agriculture is the absence of the overregulation that is threatening to throttle international agricultural trade Perhaps freedom in the international forestry trade is one of its strongest points.

Murray. Up to this point, I would agree. In fact, in 1986 the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) was born out of the necessity to ensure that this trade freedom continues. FAO shares with this organization the concern that efforts to conserve tropical forest resources be based on appropriate utilization and management rather than on arbitrary trade embargos or tariffs. The FAO Forestry Department will continue to cooperate as closely as possible with organizations such as the ITTO in which we have strong interest.

Unasylva. In your characterization of the issues facing forestry in the 1990s, you referred several times to the Tropical Forestry Action Plan. The TFAP has been heralded as a unique, ground-breaking attempt to confront the challenges facing forestry, particularly in the developing countries. Exactly where do we stand in terms of implementation of the TFAP?

Murray. The Organization was given a tremendous vote of confidence by our Member Nations and the international community at large when we were called upon to discharge the coordinating role in the TFAP. Perhaps first I should clarify that the Tropical Forestry Action Plan is not a plan that FAO (or anyone else) is seeking to impose on the world. It is an approach or a strategy which we are encouraging member countries to apply to their national situation in order to relieve bottlenecks in the subsector that impede progress in utilizing their forest resources for sustained development. Thus the Plan is to be applied at the national level, as far as possible by nationals, in full consonance with their planning authorities. Plans for forestry development must be fully in accord with overall plans for development.

INDUSTRIAL POLLUTION is a major threat to the forest environment in the developed countries

In attempting to ensure this, as the coordinating agency, we seek to involve-along with governments-as many as possible of the international organizations that have an interest, the private sector, NGOs, etc. Most important, we try to encourage the government authorities themselves to involve their own local communities so that whatever is ultimately built into the Plan reflects the felt needs of the local people.

The Plan has been extremely well received by the international community, member countries, international banks and most NGOs; some 70 countries have expressed interest in it and are in fact taking steps to implement the Plan according to their own particular situations and needs.

This is a source of satisfaction but, in all fairness, I must comment that I have two sources of concern. One, because of the general acceptance of the Plan at all levels, expectations are high, particularly at the national level. My concern is that these expectations should not be frustrated. Should that occur, the whole objective of the exercise could suffer a setback from which it might be impossible to recover.

Following on from this is the question of how one seeks to fulfil these expectations. We have to face the reality that there are very few developing countries which have at their disposal the necessary resources (by resources I mean trained personnel as much as finance) to make a significant impact on the problem of tropical deforestation. Therefore, if the international community is to be seen to be serious about its expressed concern over deforestation, this expressed concern needs to be substantially backed by the application of resources. Although we have now completed eight TFAP national exercises, the rate of flow of resources in response to the needs that have been identified is not what had been hoped for.

C.H. Murray - A profile

The appointment of Mr C.H. Murray to the post of Assistant Director-General of FAO and bead of the Organization's Forestry Department in December 1988 marks the culmination of more than 30 years dedicated to forestry development and international service.

After early work experiences as a science teacher and oil-drilling engineer Mr Murray, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, joined his country's Forest Service. Showing high promise in his initial responsibilities, Mr Murray was approved for participation in a foreign study programme, and gained a BA and MA in forestry, both with honours, from the University of Oxford (United Kingdom). His specialization was forest resource management and policy implications.

Upon completion of his studies in 1961, Mr Murray returned to Trinidad and Tobago as Assistant Conservator of Forests. In 1963, at the age of 33, he became Chief Conservator of Forests-the administrative and technical head of the national Forest Service-responsible for the planning, implementation and monitoring of all matters relating to forestry and wildlife management. The magnitude of the job can be inferred from the fact that government-owned forest resources covered 40 percent of the total land surface of the newly independent nation.

Mr Murray joined FAO in 1968 as an officer in the Forest Policy Service; after serving in the Forestry Department as Project Operations Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, and then as a specialist in integrated approaches to land use planning in the Forest Resources Division, he was seconded to the United Nations Development Programme in 1975 as Senior Agricultural Adviser and FAO Country Representative in Jamaica.

On his return to FAO in 1977, Mr Murray served as Attaché de Cabinet, and in 1986 was appointed Directeur de Cabinet.

In 1980 Mr Murray received an award from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in recognition of outstanding service in the field of forest resources management.

AN EARLY IMAGE Mr Murray as a member of the Trinidad and Tobago Forest Service

Unasylva. Is everyone really on the TFAP bandwagon? There seem to be misunderstandings or misconceptions that are leading to a lack of support in some quarters, particularly among some NGOs. What is the root of the problem and what is FAO doing to try to counterbalance it?

Murray. I believe that the root of the problem is an information gap that has led to misunderstandings about what the TFAP really is, its mechanisms, procedures and ultimate goals. It should be remembered that the TFAP was launched not only by FAO but by a group of concerned organizations including the World Resources Institute, one of the most respected NGOs. I am convinced that the criticisms, and fortunately they have been few although those few have been particularly loudly trumpeted, spring from a misunderstanding of the TFAP as a whole.

All the guidelines on TFAP stress the critical role of local and national NGOs in ensuring grassroots participation. For the TFAP to be truly successful, they must be deliberately and systematically involved at the earliest possible stage so as to ensure that the priorities identified reflect the real needs and social perceptions of these communities. For this reason the harmonization of approaches between forestry and other sectors, i.e. an intersectoral, multidisciplinary approach, becomes fundamental. Involvement of the private sector is also encouraged.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN TROPICAL TIMBER must not be restricted by the implementation of unilateral embargos

However, the fact that there are misunderstandings in some quarters means that FAO and the other organizations involved in the TFAP need to do more. Therefore, one major element in correcting this situation will be the dissemination as widely as possible of more information on the TFAP. Of course, because the TFAP is a national exercise, it must be the government that takes the initiative in each country. FAO has the responsibility to assist in this all-important planning effort.

Unasylva. It is now just over one year that you have been Assistant Director-General and head of the FAO Forestry Department. When you came to the job you inherited a budget and an operating situation under severe stress from an agency-wide financial crisis. Now, however, a new budget has been approved reflecting a two-year programme of work and budget which seems to be characterized by at least cautious optimism. What are some of the key points in terms of FAO's plans to respond to the issues you characterized earlier as being of primary importance?

Murray. It is true that the Forestry Department and the Organization have been living through a very lean period, and I have to say that while the prospects seem to be improving, the diet has not changed. We are still in a situation of budget restraint and because of the earlier crisis, there has developed and still exists a significant number of vacancies in the staff of the Forestry Department. This is particularly serious because what the Organization has to offer at headquarters is talent and brain power. When posts become vacant activities languish.

In this new biennium coinciding with the beginning of the 1990s, I would like to feel that the Department will launch a strenuous effort. Although small, it will be called upon increasingly to carry a heavier burden.

To highlight some of the areas where we will be focusing our attention, I must refer again to the Tropical Forestry Action Plan. The TFAP has become and will remain the main thrust of the Department for at least the next five years. From the TFAP exercises under way two areas of importance have already emerged. The TFAP is fundamentally a planning exercise and the Department is being called upon to redouble its ability to assist governments in their planning efforts. Therefore, one primary focus of this biennium will be the strengthening and streamlining of the planning service.

The second area which has emerged is that of research. One of the main conclusions of the Bellagio II meeting in December 1988 was that the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) should widen its mandate to include forestry research. It is my intention that the FAO Forestry Department gear itself to complement the efforts of the CGIAR, in particular to strengthen national research institutions. Thus the current work programme calls for the creation of a new position of forestry research officer.

Forest protection is another area that will be receiving extra attention, in response to environmental challenges confronting forestry worldwide-fire, pollution, pests and, of course, deforestation.

Much of the rural population depends directly on the forests as a source of goods and services but traditionally at government levels the forests have been seen as a source of timber, pulp and paper. Over these last years it has become manifestly clear that rural populations obtain many other products from the forests. In fact, some recent research has produced convincing evidence that the value of one hectare of Amazonian forest is worth much more if it is managed on a sustained basis for non-traditional products than if it were cleared for its timber.

With that in mind, during this biennium we will focus on non-timber forest products and seek to understand better their value in development. This effort will be linked closely with our work in community forestry, as we will need to explore and benefit from the knowledge and experience already existing at the community level.

This does not mean however, that we will neglect the so-called traditional forest industries or our responsibilities in respect of the developed countries. The Department on behalf of FAO continually monitors the global situation through our outlook and timber trend studies. FAO remains the only source of global statistics on forestry.

I would be remiss if I did not mention our field programme which represents the cutting edge of the Department's activities. Through the joint efforts of the field programme and the regular programme, we expect that in this biennium we will be able to channel some 100 million dollars of extra-budgetary resources to the projects and programmes of our member countries to support their developmental efforts in forestry.

Unasylva. To conclude, looking forward first to the end of the decade, and then to the end of the twentieth century, what are your aspirations to for world forestry in general and for FAO in particular?

Murray. The major problem facing the world is that of the destruction of the forest and if by the end of the decade we will have succeeded in slowing the rate of destruction by even 50 percent, I think we will have made a major achievement.

From the point of view of the Organization I would like to see a stronger, more vibrant, more active and even more aggressive Forestry Department. FAO has such a pivotal role to play in helping countries-and here I stress "helping". FAO cannot solve the problems alone; we can only help and inspire countries to deal with their forestry challenges-and to do this we need to have at our disposal the best talent available and a liberal amount of resources.

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