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Forestry in the 1990s

An interview with FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma

Unasylva. Mr Director-General, this September the Government of France will host the Tenth World Forestry Congress in Paris. On the eve of this extraordinarily important gathering, Unasylva would very much like to share with its readers your thoughts on some aspects of the world forestry situation.

Mr Director-General Edouard Saouma

Saouma. I consider the Tenth World Forestry Congress as crucial to the future of forestry worldwide. It provides a unique opportunity to analyze essential forestry issues against the background of unprecedented concern over the global environment. To understand fully the magnitude of the problem facing the world community, it is important to take a brief look back in time. When the Ninth World Forestry Congress was held in Mexico City in 1985, the great challenges facing forestry worldwide were already evident, but public consciousness and political determination had not yet been fully awakened. Recognizing the need to heighten awareness of the vital role played by forests and trees in socio-economic development, and to stimulate action in support of the conservation and sustainable use of forestry resources, FAO declared 1985 "The International Year of the Forest". At the same time, in partnership with the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the World Resources Institute, FAO launched the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP).

Slightly more than five years later, the change in concern for forestry resources has been nothing short of extraordinary. Literally thousands of governmental and non-governmental organizations, in both developing and developed countries, have taken up the cause of conservation and sustained development of forest resources.

Since the launching of the TFAP in 1985, most governments have supported the basic principles behind this flexible international framework. Although I would not wish to claim a cause-effect relationship, with the launching of the TFAP international assistance to forestry increased from an estimated US$400 million per year in 1985 to more than $1 100 million in 1990. Of the more than 80 developing countries that have officially embraced the TFAP, 20 countries have already formulated long-term forestry development strategies based on the fundamental principles of conservation and sustainable use of forest resources.

However, the substantial and energetic efforts of these past five years have not kept pace with the factors that are threatening the world's forests. In fact, our most recent information sadly forces me to conclude that we are worse off than we were before.

Unasylva. Would you elaborate on this?

Saouma. FAO is in the process of completing a global assessment of forest resources. Although the final results will not be available until some time next year, it is already clear that tropical forest destruction has steadily accelerated since the findings of the 1980 forest resources assessment. The latest estimates indicate that the annual rate of tropical deforestation is about 80 percent higher now than it was ten years ago. Even if some of this increase is the result of today's more accurate resource-appraisal techniques, we are now talking about 17 million ha of deforestation per year, and not 11.5 million as before.

The threat to forests is worldwide and by no means confined to tropical forests. It is now clear that temperate forests in industrialized countries, especially but not exclusively those in Eastern Europe, are being severely damaged by emissions of sulphur dioxide, ozone and other industrial wastes. The savannahs and wood lands of arid and semi-arid zones are being overexploited by growing human and animal populations; without a protective tree cover, the advance of the desert is inevitable.

In short, we run the very real risk of undermining a resource base that is fundamental to the future development of the Earth. This must not be allowed to occur. Our responsibility extends not only to all people now living on the planet, but also to future generations. Therefore, I cannot but applaud the selection of "Forests, a heritage for the future" as the theme for the Tenth World Forestry Congress. As co-organizer of the Congress, along with the Government of France, FAO has committed substantial human and financial resources to ensuring that this will be the most widely followed Congress to date. The fruits of this effort are already evident; the number of voluntary papers was forecast as approximately 300 but more than 700 have been received. In the same vein, I would also wish to note that FAO has chosen "Trees for life" as the theme for World Food Day, 16 October 1991.

Unasylva. What do you see as the key elements in a successful effort to conserve and develop forest resources for the maximum benefit of people now and in the future?

Saouma. My "basic training" is in agriculture and, although it saddens me to have to admit it, it is apparent that most of the threats currently hanging over the world's forests stem from a crisis in agriculture. Today, the expansion of agriculture into marginal and forest lands is responsible for more than three-quarters of deforestation. Efforts to increase production in the developing countries, and above all to achieve equitable distribution, have not kept pace with population growth. The immediate effects are the waste of potentially valuable forest resources, the denudation of hill and mountain slopes, as well as the consequent soil erosion and siltation of dams and irrigation works, which are so essential to downstream areas. Tomorrow this phenomenon could contribute to climate changes which would threaten both forests and agricultural production. Agriculture is certainly not ready to absorb the shock of a rapid change in climate. Therefore, a basic need is for improvements in the sustainable productivity of agriculture on suitable lands.

Unasylva. What do you see as the role of the forest sector in contributing to the achievement of sustainable agriculture?

In arid and semi arid zones, a protective vegetative cover is essential to halt desertification

Saouma. Physical production of food is obviously one of the pillars of food security; another is economic access to food. That is to say, if we want rural people to stop destroying the forests in order to grow their own food, we must make it possible for them to use forest resources on a sustainable basis to earn the money needed to buy food produced elsewhere. To be viable and self-sustaining, attempts at forest conservation must be based on the management and wise use of all of the resources in the ecosystem - timber, other tree and plant products, animals, etc. The key is to make forest lands more valuable on a sustainable basis under forest cover than under any other form of land use. This, in fact, is the essence of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan.

Unasylva. Would you give the readers of Unasylva an overview fen of progress in the implementation of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan and of recent developments

Saouma. I am certain that the readers of Unasylva are familiar with the background, objectives and contents of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan. Suffice it to say that the Plan was launched to provide a framework for concerted national and international action, within which all participants maintain their autonomy. FAO was called upon to coordinate the implementation of the Plan, the aim of which is to arrest the loss and degradation of tropical forests while pursuing their sustainable development and conservation for the benefit of the people who live in, around or from them. Although the TFAP emphasizes forestry action, it also advocates a forest land development strategy including land-use planning, agricultural production, energy supply, institutional development and population issues.

After five years of implementation, and given the magnitude of the response, I considered it timely to assess the achievements and weaknesses of the TFAP with a view to seeking ways and means of improving its effectiveness. To do this, in the early part of 1990 I engaged three high-level external consultants to undertake an objective review of the Plan and to submit their findings and recommendations to me for follow-up action. Based on a scrupulous examination of their findings, and after extensive discussions with our TFAP partners and FAO member countries, a number of decisions have been taken.

First and foremost, it is apparent that the Plan should be continued and should encompass both immediate action and long-term measures, as well as the necessary process of institution-building at the national level. In seeking ways to make the TFAP more effective, we have benefited from the advice of an ad hoc group of experts familiar with the Plan. It is now clear that for greater effect, the TFAP must become more country-led and process-oriented. The main idea behind this is that the TFAP process should be internalized by the participating countries, thus reducing dependence on external missions and international coordination This may prolong the process of development of national forestry action plans, but it will ensure that the results of these plans are appropriate and endure the test of time. To assist countries toward this end, the consultants recommended the development of Country Capacity Projects, which are designed to support the efforts of participating countries in strengthening their institutional capacity to undertake the necessary policy and planning activities. I fully endorse this recommendation and attach the highest priority to the swift implementation of these projects.

The consultants also recommended the establishment of a consultative group or forum to give strategic advice and guidance to the TFAP. Details are yet to be worked out.

Revised guidelines for implementation of the TFAP are currently being drawn up to help countries ensure that their national plans are of high quality; that they reflect the participation of the various interest groups, including non-governmental organizations; and that projects and programmes are expeditiously executed, monitored and evaluated by donors and recipients. These flexible guidelines will, help participating countries determine the objectives, modus operandi and expected outputs of country projects, as well as the approaches needed to ensure the adequate mobilization of both human and financial resources.

I should add that FAO has dedicated some US$1.4 million from its Regular Programme to the TFAP in the 1990-91 biennium. To complement the Organization's efforts, nine countries have contributed nearly $6 million to a multidonor trust fund to support the TFAP, both centrally and in the participating countries.

As we move forward, the TFAP must become progressively country-led and process-oriented

To conclude, much of the task of controlling deforestation and bringing tropical forests under sustainable management still lies ahead. The TFAP will continue to develop and evolve as the international mechanism for achieving this goal.

Unasylva. At its 1989 session the FAO Conference decided on the introduction of a rolling medium-tar m plan covering a period of six years. What will he the priority orientations of the Organization's programmes and activities in forestry through the mid-1990s?

Saouma. The priorities of FAO in forestry over the next few years will include environmental protection; improved resource productivity and utilization; human resource development; and policy analysis and advice.

The increasing awareness of and concern for environmental conservation are creating a parallel requirement for improved knowledge of the state of forest resources. A significant achievement of the current forest resources assessment, to which referred earlier, will be the establishment of a system allowing the continuous global monitoring of the status of forests. FAO will also continue to move ahead with investigations into the possible relationship between forestry and climate change, and will, of course, make a major contribution to the preparation of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

In order to combine the effective conservation of forest resources with utilization that is both socially and economically viable, innovative packages will need to be developed for the sustainable, multipurpose management of existing forests, both natural and cultivated. Support for tree-planting activities will remain a high priority. The development of forest industries will focus on improving the output of existing products and analysing the feasibility of new ones. Special attention will be given to the development of small-scale rural enterprises and to the fuller utilization of non-wood forest products.

FAO's central role in the collection and dissemination of forestry statistics will be epitomized in the preparation of a major world study on the outlook for supply and demand of forest products. This important step toward quantifying the economic, social and environmental impacts of forestry development will be harmonized with FAO's creation of a World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT), which is designed to enhance the usefulness to the international community of the many data bases and the wealth of information accumulated by the Organization.

Support to tree-planting activities will remain a high priority for FAO

There will be an emphasis on human resource development throughout the activities of the Forestry Department. However, I would like to highlight two areas. First, despite its crucial role, forestry research has still not received sufficient attention. It is therefore important to strengthen the Organization's programmes in this area in order to assist in the development of national capabilities for undertaking site-specific forestry research as a complement to the work carried out by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which now includes forestry in its mandate.

The second area has even broader implications: the role of women in forestry. It is now universally recognized that women are prominent in the management and utilization of local forest resources. FAO is promoting women's full participation in the forestry sector, with special attention focused on helping countries to increase the number of women forestry professionals and extension agents, and removing legal constraints to women's involvement in forestry by ensuring their equal rights to productive resources, credit, marketing channels, technology and training.

FAO will also give priority to assisting member countries in strengthening their capacity for policy development and planning. Assistance in the formulation of policies and plans at national and international levels will be based on a continuing analysis of the policy and institutional implications of the evolving roles of forestry.

In each of the priority areas to which I have referred, increasing the participation of local people will be a key to success. The involvement of local groups in the design and management of forestry activities would facilitate participatory decision-making: a more equitable flow of benefits to users; a more effective integration of forestry into local agricultural production systems; and ultimately, increased sustainability and ecological stability.

The Forestry Field Programme is the cutting edge of FAO's work in this sector. The priorities of the Organization will, of course, continue to be reflected in the activities of the more than 330 forestry field projects that are currently being implemented or are under preparation. [Ed. note: see article on FAO's Forestry Field Programme]

Unasylva. Mr Director-General, you have often sounded the call for international solidarity in confronting the challenges of development. At present there are a number of international legal instruments being developed that will have a direct hearing on the forestry sector. Would you care to discuss FAO's involvement?

Saouma. There are international legal instruments relating to forests which are in force at present; for example, the International Tropical Timber Agreement and the African Convention for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, just to name two. Two others are currently being debated: one on biodiversity and another on climate.

FAO will strengthen its programmes to assist developing countries in site-specific forestry research

Since 1988 FAO has been cooperating closely with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Unesco and the World Conservation Union [Ed. note: formerly the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources] in the formulation of an international convention on biodiversity. The connections between biodiversity and forest conservation and development are obvious. Forest ecosystems, particularly tropical forests, are the major sources of biological diversity. Indeed, it can be expected that one of the principal elements of any convention on biodiversity would be to promote the conservation of selected forest ecosystems.

Under the joint auspices of UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing the elements of a framework convention on climate change, to be complemented by a number of protocols.

The interrelationship between forests, climatic stability and biodiversity cannot be denied, but these are only two of a myriad of "user-oriented" interests for which forests must be conserved and sustainably managed. In FAO's view, a better way to deal with the challenges of forest management, conservation and development would be to take a "resource based" approach that fuses ecological considerations with an appreciation of the economic importance of forest development and the significance of forests to local peoples. The FAO Secretariat was requested by the FAO Council at its November 1990 session to prepare the technical and legal elements of a possible instrument for forest conservation and development.

The essential aim of such an instrument should be to ensure the conservation and sustainable development of the world's forests for the benefit of present and future generations. The proposed instrument would cover all forests - tropical, subtropical, temperate and boreal - and all of the issues that influence, or are influenced by, forests and forestry. It would provide the international community with clearly articulated principles and the mechanisms for capital transfer that are so desperately needed for the conservation, management and wise use of forests in the context of sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development.

Of course, such an instrument will recognize the sovereign right of each nation to administer its forests in accordance with its own development priorities. But at the same time, the effects of deforestation and forest degradation respect neither boundaries of space nor of time. Therefore, international solidarity in confronting the challenges facing forestry is at once a practical necessity and a moral obligation. It is this sense of international solidarity that I hope will guide the deliberations of the more than 3 000 participants expected in Paris on 17 September for the opening of the Tenth World Forestry Congress.

Unasylva. Thank you, Mr Director-General.

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