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An overview of the FAO Forestry Field Programme

M.K. Muthoo

Maharaj K. Muthoo is Director of the FAO Forestry Operations Service.

FAO places its technical expertise in forestry directly at the disposal of member countries through its Field Programme. It is supported by the accumulated experience and ongoing activities of the Regular Programme at the Organization's headquarters and regional offices. This, in turn, is reinforced and updated by the feedback from its field activities, so that Regular and Field Programmes are closely intertwined.

The Forestry Field Programme currently comprises 330 technical assistance projects in over 90 countries, staffed by 690 experts and consultants. They are supported by FAO's Forestry Department - with the largest concentration of forestry specialists in any international organization - and the FAO Investment Centre. The forestry field projects also draw upon diverse expertise in other technical departments of the Organization for complementary inputs. These are increasingly required in the face of the intersectoral nature of forestry issues and the interdisciplinary approaches to the related problems of deforestation and renewable resource management.

In addition to national contributions in cash and in kind, the current expatriate budget of the ongoing Forestry Field Programme is of the order of US$360 million. Its annual replenishment through new project approvals has reached the US$ 100 million mark, representing more than a fivefold increase since 1980.

FIGURE 1. Field project expenditure

FIGURE 2. Project expenditure by region, 1990

The geographical spread of forestry field projects reflects the general trend of FAO's entire Field Programme. In the 1989-90 biennium Africa accounted for more than 46 percent of Forestry Field Programme expenditure; Asia and the Pacific 24 percent; the Near East and Europe around 17 percent, including interregional projects; and Latin America and the Caribbean about 13 percent. The first 20 countries in descending order of project expenditure during the same biennium were: Zimbabwe, Senegal, Indonesia, the Sudan, Nepal, Mauritania, Peru, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Yemen, Uganda, India, Malawi, Bhutan, Chad, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde and Guinea.

Main fields of forestry assistance and emerging themes

There is heightened awareness of the socioeconomic and environmental impact of tropical deforestation. Further efforts are called for to improve scientific knowledge regarding environmental management and related forestry issues as integral components of a holistic development strategy.

Research and technology development

More research is required regarding fragile ecosystems, such as the humid tropical forests, arid zones, mountain watersheds and mangroves, all of which are under mounting population pressure and poverty. One example of concrete action in this context is the new FAO Forestry Research Support Project for the Asian and Pacific Region, developed in close cooperation with the Asian Development Bank. The Bank is contributing about US$ 1.4 million with additional funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The project will strengthen research institutions and promote intercountry cooperation through a research network.

Another example of technology development is the Modern Forest Fire Control Project in India which has a UNDP budget of US$4.9 million and is being executed by FAO. New technical packages have resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number and size of forest fires in both project pilot areas. At the same time, India has developed the capability to manufacture appropriate fire-fighting equipment and to assist other countries.

The Modern Forest Fire Control Project in India has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number and size of fires in the project area

Remote sensing and digitized data bases

The ongoing global Forest Resources Assessment 1990 Project is gathering up-to-date information on the world's tropical forest resources, needed by the scientific community and decision-makers for formulating strategies for action on the interrelated issues of deforestation, climatic change and biological diversity. Statistical data are being computerized for systematic retrieval and analysis, while spatial data are analysed using a Geographic Information System (GIS). The project has already developed a statistically sound sampling procedure to monitor continuous forest resources using remote sensing data from high-resolution satellites (LANDSAT, SPOT). In addition, data from the coarse-resolution NOAA AVHRR satellite will provide an up-to-date map of global tropical forest cover. A methodology is being developed to evaluate the environmental impact of deforestation and forest degradation in terms of biomass, desertification, biological conservation and biodiversity as well as carbon uptake and climate change.

This project is implemented through a multidonor trust fund of US$2 million, contributed by Finland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Its ultimate objective is to strengthen national capabilities in keeping continuous forest inventories and in the use of remote sensing and selected technologies; related projects are under way in Brazil, China, India. Indonesia. Kenya, Malaysia and Tunisia.

Biotechnology and tree improvement

Forestry has yet to draw upon the advancing frontiers of biotechnological development. Nevertheless, the groundwork is being laid. An FAO Trust Fund project, covering 17 countries in the subregions controlled by the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD), is aimed at improving the genetic resources of multipurpose woody species in arid and semiarid tropical Africa where harsh ecological conditions, prolonged drought and fuelwood scarcity have led to the severe erosion of woody vegetation. Under the project, studies have been done on the distribution, biology, ecology and variability of indigenous species, and assistance has been provided in the establishment and strengthening of national seed centres, as well as the collection and distribution of seeds, and the improvement and conservation of woody planting materials.

An FAO/France Government Cooperative Programme (GCP) project in China assisted in the improvement of nitrogen-fixing species for soil enrichment and enhanced productivity. Several other projects are aimed at upgrading national capabilities in genetics, tree improvement and related biotechnological techniques for selected indigenous and exotic species, which are being used increasingly in forestry programmes.

Environmental management

The environmental dimension has always been an important aspect of scientific forest management, but its explicit consideration in forestry programmes is only now becoming a practical reality Apart from traditional projects dealing with national parks, watershed management, desert control and reforestation-which will remain important - more and more forestry projects are being developed exclusively or predominantly for environmental management. An ongoing FAO Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project, providing technical assistance to the pro tempore secretariat of the Amazonian Cooperation Treaty in the formulation of programmes and projects identified by the Special Commission on the Environment, aims at the promotion of activities for sustain-able development in the Amazon region.

Through a Trust Fund project in Senegal, local people are becoming more aware of the importance of tree cover in conserving the environment

With FAO assistance, Chile has established a strong foundation in forestry research and training. Pictured is a forestry trainee

A US$ 1.9 million UNDP-funded project in Sri Lanka, devoted to environmental management in forestry, is being executed by FAO in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Such collaborative approaches are likely to be increasingly used in the future.

Renewable resource conservation and forest management

FAO's most prominent ongoing forestry activity is the assessment, management and conservation of forest resources. This often takes the form of specialized technical advice, resource surveys and planning. The latter may entail the preparation of master plans or detailed management plans for a particular forestry activity or region. Watershed management, arid-zone forestry and desert control also form part of this category, as do projects that seek to conserve wildlife resources and create cultivated forests.

The struggle against desertification is one of the priorities of the Senegalese Government. Toward this end, a forest resource inventory of the Casamance was undertaken and is now being followed up by a management plan for the region's Dabo forest, under two successive FAO/UNDP projects (US$ 1.5 million). Elsewhere in Senegal, a series of integrated community forestry projects are being implemented with people's participation under the FAO Government Cooperation Programme. The projects are at Louga, Bakel; Fatick, in the Groundnut Basin; and Tivaouane in the northwest; and they are financed, respectively, by Sweden (US$4.7 million), Finland (US$3.4 million) and the Netherlands (US$5 million). Several thousand volunteer workers from rural development organizations and local populations have taken action toward the reforestation of savannah steppes, the protection of irrigated land and the management of grazing areas. These projects have thus created public awareness of the importance of tree cover in curtailing environmental degradation.

The SADCC Forestry Industry Training Centre admitted its first group of students in 1990

Through a Japanese Trust Fund, a regional agroforestry research and development project has been launched in Asia

Two FAO/UNDP projects, each valued at US$2.6 million, are under way in northern Pakistan where deforestation and soil erosion are reducing agricultural production and the life span of hydroelectric dams. One, at the Pakistan Forestry Institute, is assisting in watershed research and education, and the other, near the Mangla Dam, is demonstrating improved land use and reforestation and soil conservation techniques. Sustained efforts are required, although considerable progress has already been made in strengthening local institutions' expertise in these areas.

FAO surveys have shown that bushmeat is a crucial source of protein, accounting for up to 80 percent or more of certain local communities' protein intake. This is particularly true in semi-arid areas where wild animals are better adapted to the environment than domestic stock.

Accordingly, a comprehensive Regional Survey of Wildlife Utilization in Africa is being conducted under a TCP project. The aim is to develop controlled and sustainable forms of use of the wildlife resources for rural development, thereby contributing to improved nutrition, income diversification and environmental conservation.

Forestry institutions

Forest conservation and development policies must be backed by specialized institutions for administration, training, extension and research. Institution building therefore receives strong support in FAO's forestry field projects.

Chile was one of the first countries in Latin America to install forestry training facilities with FAO assistance and it has now established a strong foundation in forestry research and training, with Chilean experts also involved in forestry programmes in other countries.

A Regional Centre for Forestry Education Development, on the campus of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, is a practical example of technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC). Established with the assistance of an FAO/Sweden GCP project, the centre provides training for teachers in Asia and the Pacific and assists in curricula development and post-training services.

Forest industries and trade

Through its forestry information and advisory role, FAO contributes to the worldwide promotion of forest industries and trade. As almost one-half of the developing world's wood exports are still in the form of logs, there is a great need to establish appropriate wood and other forest-based industries and to improve existing facilities. This must be done with a view to improving utilization so as to contribute to conservation.

With an Italian trust fund contribution of US$27.39 million, the largest forestry project ever to be executed by FAO is currently aimed at improving forest industries in the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) countries by training technicians and mill managers. A modern and well equipped Forest Industry Training Centre is being established in Zimbabwe and the first intake of students from the ten SADCC countries was recently admitted to a two year diploma course. Intake capacity is being built up and measures are being taken to ensure the institution's full-scale and self reliant operation.

FIGURE 3. Trends in share of funding sources in project expenditure

Fuelwood, community and private forestry

The most rapidly expanding category of FAO assistance includes forestry for rural development, much of it involving community forestry activities and fuelwood development. This field encompasses a number of new approaches, including people's participation to increase local production of fuelwood, fodder, building poles, rattan and bamboos, fruit and nuts, medicinal plants and other forest products; and appropriate forest enterprises to create jobs and generate incomes in rural areas.

For the six million inhabitants of Peru's high sierra, wood has traditionally been the principal source of energy. However, deforestation has resulted in acute shortages and the local rural populations have turned to manure, grass and other vegetable matter, thus compounding the problem of soil degradation. With US$ 10.8 million, an FAO/Netherlands GCP project is under way to develop self-sustaining activities that provide for domestic wood needs while increasing the productivity of crops and livestock and generating additional income. An evaluation of the project has indicated that the concept of community forestry is gaining ground among the rural people.

An innovative forest programme in Nepal requires that community forestry be carried out by local user-groups who manage and utilize their own forest resources on a sustainable basis. Some US$692 million will be needed to implement the Community and Private Forestry Programme (C&P) during this and the coming decade. Included in C&P are the FAO/UNDP Community Forestry project for national programme support; an FAO/EEC Technical Assistance project in the Terai region, supported with a $17 million loan from the World Bank; an FAO/SIDA funded project, in two pilot districts, aimed at income and employment generation through the diversification of forest-based activities; and a new FAO/Netherlands GCP project, Support to the Hills Leasehold Forestry and Forage Development, funded by IFAD with about $14 million. The latter project is at the cutting edge of new approaches to integrated forestry, agriculture and livestock activities governed by local self reliant mechanisms.

Multidisciplinary approaches

A recently completed TCP project in China helped the forest service take emergency action to control the spread of the diaspid scale in pine forests

There has been a noticeable trend toward projects focusing on the understanding of the role of forests and trees and on the fuller use of their products and services in an integrated, multipurpose development context. Intersectoral linkages between forestry and agriculture, energy and environmental conservation are receiving increasing attention in forestry field activities. It is in this context that a new FAO/Japan GCP project, Agroforestry Research and Development in Asia, has been launched to promote agroforestry as a means of achieving sustainable productivity in traditional farming. And in Costa Rica, a comprehensive FAO/UNDP project, combining technical assistance from FAO with bilateral inputs in the form of US$2 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aims to strengthen institutions and improve forestation and watershed management.

The Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP), one of the highest priority special action programmes of the Organization, is an outstanding example of the multidisciplinary approach to development. Based on an intersectoral approach to forestry planning and development, it provides a unique means for channelling international aid in a concerted manner. An ongoing multidonor Trust Fund project, currently financed by Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, is strengthening FAO's support to field missions and round tables.

Interfacing forestry with agriculture is essential in order to minimize degradation of the remaining tropical forests. On the humid, tropical eastern coast of Madagascar, an FAO/UNDP project is aimed at alleviating the pressure of slash-and-burn cultivation on a steadily dwindling forest cover. Notable activities in the project area have included convincing the peasants of the need to suppress bush fires and undertake soil conservation measures, and improving the intensive irrigated-rice culture. The result has been rice yields four or five times greater than those achieved under traditional slash-and-burn methods. Moreover, private and community woodlots have been established and the peasant economy has been diversified through the introduction of other enterprises such as improved charcoal production, beekeeping, fish farming and poultry rearing.

Changing use of long-term experts and short-term consultants in FAO forestry field projects








Long-term experts





Short-term consultants





Partnership modalities

The growth of the Forestry Field Programme, together with its progressive diversification, reflects the high priority being attached to it by the member countries. On the one hand, there is increasing demand for technical assistance in order for countries to develop self-reliance in the management of their forest and related resources, and in order for them to promote sustainable socioeconomic development. On the other hand, there is continued reliance on the competence of the Organization to attract donor resources, which have been increasing, though not nearly matching the demand for assistance being made on FAO.

FAO Government Cooperative Programme

The most rapid growth of the Field Programme is in the area of Trust Funds, which now account for over 56 percent of the Programme. The largest component is the FAO Government Cooperative Programme (GCP), through which resources are channelled by donor governments. These include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In addition, many of these as well as other countries, including the United States, contribute to the Field Programme through the Associate Professional Officers scheme; more than 100 young professionals are currently assigned to forestry projects by way of this scheme.

The trend is for the GCP to encourage a long-term "programme approach", which envisages clusters of related projects and programmes supported by national governments, with FAO providing inputs for project formulation, management and monitoring as well as technical assistance. For example, the multidonor Forests, Trees and People (FTP) Programme supports FAO's community forestry work in assembling, analysing and disseminating knowledge about strategies and technologies for participatory forestry activities, and provides support to field activities in developing countries.

Unilateral Trust Funds

Unilateral Trust Funds (UTF), the second largest FAO Trust Fund category, include projects funded by governments out of credit made available to them by development banks and other funding institutions, or from their own budget. This category currently includes a US$2.1 million project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where FAO's expertise is assisting in national park management and in strengthening the Department of Range and Forestry.

In Indonesia, the technical assistance component of a World Bank loan of over $60 million is being implemented under an FAO/World Bank UTF forestry studies project ($2.34 million) to carry out a forestry sector assessment and prepare a National Forestry Action Plan. FAO is involved in the implementation of technical assistance through similar UTF arrangements with several other countries, including Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Sri Lanka, the Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey.

Other recent Trust Funds with partners of the United Nations system include joint undertakings with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) for sand dune stabilization and the construction of dams in Mauritania, and with the United Nations Sudano-Sahelian Office (UNSO), for arid-zone forestry and desertification control in the Sudan and elsewhere.

Technical Cooperation Programme

FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP), initiated 15 years ago, provides Regular Programme funding for small-scale, short-term catalytic projects; 390 forestry TCP projects, valued at US$30 million, have been implemented since 1976. Africa has had the highest regional share (154 projects), followed by Asia and the Pacific (95), Latin America and the Caribbean (93), and the Near East and Europe (47).

Training at the grassroots level is the largest category of TCP assistance, followed by investment promotion. An agroforestry TCP project has trained 30 chiefs of agricultural stations in the extreme north of Cameroon. They, in turn, are demonstrating agroforestry techniques to the local populations. A pioneering TCP project was implemented in Brazil for Training and Investment Preparation for Forestry Development in the Amazon region. The project demonstrated the prerequisites of management plans which take explicit account of environmental impact and which harmonize technological, ecological and economic aspects of development. The project area, 600 000 ha around Tapajos in the Lower Amazon, has since been declared the first national forest in the Brazilian Amazon and investment funds for its protection and development have been ensured.

Emergency assistance in dealing with pest and disease attacks, floods, forest fires and hurricanes constitutes another important part of the TCP. A recently completed TCP project in China, which helped the forest service take emergency measures to control the spread of the diaspid scale in pine forests, included pesticide trials and the introduction of natural enemies of the pest.

Critical advisory services are an essential component of all TCP projects. An ongoing TCP project in Poland is assisting the Polish Forest Research Institute to improve its ability to identify and assess the effects of air pollution on forests. Follow-up bilateral assistance has now been obtained to sustain these activities.

UNDP Country Programme

Almost all of the 203 UNDP-funded forestry projects (total value US$206 million) implemented during the Fourth Country Programme Cycle (1987-91) were executed by FAO. Of these, 140 projects are currently under way, representing nearly 40 percent of the FAO Field Programme.

Further expansion of the Forestry Field Programme could be anticipated in view of the larger Country Programmes planned for the next cycle (1992-96). This is especially true in the least-developed and other countries where forest conservation and development warrant closer multilateral attention for the promotion of sustainable development. However, there is concern over the implications of the imminent changes in the execution of UNDP-funded projects and their impact on the future Field Programme.

Investment promotion

Beyond the execution of technical assistance components of investment projects, FAO cooperates with the World Bank, regional development banks and other financing institutions in investment preparation. The focal point for this activity is the Organization's Investment Centre. Between 1975 and 1985, forestry projects identified and prepared by the centre were approved for a total investment of US$2 307 million, including $885 million in supporting loans from the World Bank and other multilateral lending agencies. During the period from 1986 to 1990, the World Bank financed 26 forestry projects for a total of $ 1 200 million; 17 of these projects were prepared by the FAO Investment Centre.

The UN/FAO World Food Programme (WFP) also contributes substantial investment resources to forestry projects in the form of food-for-work, particularly in rural development programmes. Out of a total of 328 WFP development projects in 1990, some 100 projects were directed at forestry or included forestry components. The value of these projects was $566 million compared with about $230 million in 1980. FAO assists in the formulation of these projects and provides technical support during their implementation.

New trends and training

In earlier years FAO's responsibility for mobilizing, organizing and supporting field projects covered most, if not all, of the essential project inputs. This has now changed significantly. Most forestry field projects are coordinated by national directors and considerable progress has been achieved in drawing experts from developing countries, which now contribute one-half of the forestry field project officers.

Although field projects are executed in diverse country situations, there is an increasing convergence of philosophies among the developing countries and donor governments and agencies with regard to the main objective of the Forestry Field programme. That is: the achievement of overall self-reliance, based on the reduction of rural poverty; the promotion of people's participation; increased incomes and employment; and the enhancement of forestry's contribution to environmental amelioration.

Reflecting this orientation, the complexity of projects has been increasing in several respects. Large-scale, self contained projects have been progressively replaced by projects of a comparatively short duration and multidisciplinary nature. Technical requirements are becoming greater because of the growing expertise of developing countries. There is greater reliance on short-term consultants and national project directors, consequently requiring higher levels of more specialized technical support and inputs.

This newer type of project requires, at least in the initial stages, more intensive monitoring and backstopping than projects with a traditional modus operandi. These trends reflect the advancement taking place in developing countries, which must be encouraged according to the merits of each individual case.

Forestry field projects have moved increasingly from technical assistance toward technical cooperation in line with the goal of building up national self reliance. A precondition for achieving this objective is the existence of appropriate managerial, technical and administrative capacities in the country concerned. Furthermore, the recipient country must assume responsibility for some or all of the project activities. This requires an increased commitment by governments and funding agencies alike to train national staff in project formulation, management and evaluation. Consequently, training is now a more prominent and broad-based part of the Forestry Field Programme than ever before.

Since 1983, FAO has been organizing annual training workshops at its headquarters for forestry field personnel, including national project directors and staff. These workshops are aimed at obtaining increased feedback from the field; focusing on selected technical themes of growing importance; developing a better understanding of technical cooperation; explaining field programme policies and procedures; fostering technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC); and enabling field personnel to review individual projects with the relevant technical, operational and management support staff.

In addition, a similar series of regional training workshops for national and international forestry field personnel has been started. Workshops have already been held in Bangkok for the Asian and Pacific Region, in Kampala for the African Region, and in Concepción, Chile for the Latin American and Caribbean Region. The series is being repeated, together with a separate workshop, for the Arab states.

Concurrently, FAO has been training national officers in project management. Seminars have been held with the cooperation of FAO's Staff Development Group and other technical departments.

Individual fellowships are a major vehicle for strengthening the technical capabilities of national staff at specialized universities, research centres and other institutions abroad. This is the most intensive type of formal training and has involved a total of 2 035 fellowship placements during the past decade. Close to one-half of current fellowships are being implemented in a host institution of another developing country, usually within the same region.

At another level, forestry field projects have organized over 600 study tours during the past biennium. These were mainly for counterpart personnel, who were thus able to travel abroad to improve their skills by attending technical meetings, seminars and conferences, or by personally observing activities of relevance to their own country situations. Beyond formal training activities, there is also a substantial amount of on-the job training imparted to the thousands of national staff working alongside FAO experts and consultants.

Evaluation and sustainability

Progress reviews and evaluations are systematically undertaken of all forestry field projects to monitor and improve performance. About 10 percent of forestry field projects are evaluated during each biennium. This is in addition to regular reviews of all major projects, carried out in close cooperation with recipient countries and funding partners.

These evaluations and reviews show that, while the performance of FAO's Forestry Field Programme has been generally satisfactory, there is nevertheless scope for improvements and adjustments during the course of project implementation. This is particularly important with regard to the evolution of an individual project and it would be desirable to intensify monitoring and support measures for this purpose.

The use of outputs after project termination, and the sustainability of the assistance provided, calls for formal post project evaluation. This is not generally incorporated in project design but is important in order to have more information on the sustainability of technical cooperation in forestry.

In many forestry activities, sustainability is promoted through demonstrations and on-site training, particularly in community forestry and watershed management projects. The transfer of technology and training alone cannot, however, achieve sustainability; an optimal balance is required between training and other supporting activities directly related to ongoing production and protection processes.

The increasing multidisciplinary orientation of forestry projects calls for further attention to project design, and for more explicit note to be taken of the project environment as well as the interrelatedness of forestry activities with other sectors of the economy, especially agriculture. Moreover, the sustainability criteria must be used at the design stage, with due flexibility for adaptation throughout the course of the project cycle. At the same time, arrangements for monitoring, review and evaluation during implementation need to be stepped up to ensure greater use of feedback from project experiences and to allow for further focus on environmental, participatory and sustainability concerns.


FAO's Forestry Field Programme has grown dramatically during the past decade, both in volume and in diversity. More important than quantitative change, however, is the change in perspective as we move forward to meeting the challenges of the next century.

With the mounting population pressure on limited land and water resources, there has emerged a greater understanding of the close relationship between sustainable socioeconomic development and environmental management. It is in the context of a holistic development strategy that FAO's Field Programme is evolving. New projects have the dual objective of reducing rural poverty and ameliorating environmental conditions. They are, therefore, no longer confined to traditional issues of silviculture and timber production, but also comprise multidisciplinary activities for integrated management of forests and related renewable natural resources. This calls for innovative approaches to emerging concerns including, inter alia, people's participation; environmental impact; the management of ecosystems; cost-effective and appropriate technologies; computerization; remote sensing; genetics and biotechnology; women in development; the generation of incomes and employment; and renewable energy planning.

The resources required to deal with these and other issues such as building upon and upgrading indigenous technology and expertise; combating deforestation and desertification; conserving and rehabilitating watersheds and wildlife; and cultivating new forests; are beyond the means of most governments. International cooperation is therefore essential and the FAO Field Programme will be increasingly relevant in harmonizing the provision of donor resources with developing country priorities.

Learning from the lessons of past experience, FAO will continue its endeavour, in partnership with governments, agencies and institutions, to remain responsive to the specific needs of individual countries, whose field projects it is committed to execute with the highest possible standards.

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