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II. Conclusions and recommendations

1. The Panel reviewed global trends in the field of forest genetic resources and the work carried out by FAO since the previous session of the Panel in 1993. The discussions in this regard clearly demonstrated that, in response to increased international concern at policy making, scientific and popular levels, there had been rapid, world-wide expansion in action aimed at defining, measuring, monitoring and conserving biological diversity at the levels of ecosystems, species and intra-specific variation.

2. The Panel noted that the above trends had lead to a substantial, positive increase in both the amount and the scope of on-going forest genetic resources work, worldwide, and that this expansion was closely linked to new dimensions of sustainable development. The Panel also noted the opportunities and possibilities afforded by recent scientific developments in genetics and breeding which, when wisely used, could provide new and powerful tools to help underpin action in the forest genetic resources field.

3. The Panel recommended that the distinctive nature of work in the forest genetic resources field, which required specialized technical and scientific knowledge, continue to be reflected in the work programme of FAO; and that the increased demands for support to global action and expansion in scope, be acknowledged and adequately catered for.

4. In this regard, the Panel recommended that FAO continue to provide strong international leadership and a point of reference for the world community in the field of forest genetic resources, in which the competence of the Organization was commonly recognized. It underlined the importance to further strengthen efforts to provide technically and scientifically sound information and advice to concerned international bodies, national institutes, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, to help catalyze field level action, and to help coordinate activities at national, regional and international levels.

5. The Panel noted with appreciation the continued and growing collaboration in the forest genetic resources field between FAO and relevant Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, CGIAR (notably IPGRI, CIFOR and ICRAF); with organizations such as IUFRO and its Special Programme for Developing Countries; and with a large number of national, regional and sub-regional institutions. It recommended that the collegial relations, mutual esteem and widespread goodwill which existed at all levels in the generally closely-knit forest genetic resources community, be fostered and drawn upon for the benefit of sustainable forestry development, worldwide.

6. The Panel took note of recent developments in related fields of forestry, including the ongoing international efforts to promote sustainable forestry development through the identification of criteria for sustainable forest management, and through the definition of common sustainability indicators for monitoring effects of human intervention or influences on forests and forest ecosystems. The conservation of biological diversity and genetic resources had, systematically, been identified among the common core criteria in such efforts.

7. The Panel, further, noted the calls made in a number of international fora for including information on qualitative variables, such as levels and distribution of biological diversity, in the global forest resources assessments periodically published by FAO.

8. In this regard, the Panel recommended that FAO, supported by the global forest genetic resources community, help ensure that technically and scientifically solid information on genetic conservation aspects was made available to fora in which decisions were made on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management and on variables to be assessed in national, regional and global resource surveys. Such information was a prerequisite for sound decision-making and subsequent constructive action towards the conservation and development of genetic resources within the overall framework of forest management planning and the sustainable use of forest resources.

9. The Panel welcomed the efforts underway to broaden the mandate of the inter-governmental FAO Commission on Plant Genetic Resources to cover also animal and fish genetic resources; and the promotion of appropriate linkages between work of the FAO Commission and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It noted with appreciation that plans had been made for a broadened FAO Commission to be served by sectoral, technical and scientific bodies, including one on forest genetic resources.

10. In more general terms, the Panel repeatedly stressed the need to ensure complementarity of forest genetic resources activities with broader frameworks of action, and their incorporation into i.a. national and regional forestry action programmes and forestry and environmental master plans. The Panel recommended that FAO assist countries to develop or further strengthen national strategies and action plans for the conservation, development and sustainable use of forest genetic resources. Such plans should be integrated into overall land use plans, thus ensuring their complementarity with agricultural, forestry and environmental development strategies.

11. In regard to the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (Leipzig, Germany 17-23 June 1996), the Panel acknowledged the attempts by FAO, through collaboration with national institutes concerned, to ensure that the distinctive strategies and methodologies used in the conservation and management of forest genetic resources received attention in the preparatory work for the Conference. This included FAO Forestry Department sponsorship which had allowed forestry colleagues to attend the regional and sub-regional plant genetic resources workshops organized in preparation of the Conference; collaboration in the organization of workshops on forest genetic resources for the boreal, temperate North American and European regions, which had provided inputs to the Conference; distribution to all member countries of FAO of a Questionnaire on the State of the World's Forest Genetic Resources; and the development of a global forest genetic resources information system, which included country-based information received in response to the questionnaire, information extracted from the reports of the regional and sub-regional plant and forest genetic resources workshops, country reports submitted to FAO by member countries in preparation of the Leipzig Conference, and other reliable and objective sources, such as the Report on the 8th Session of the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources.

12. While recognizing the need to maintain and further strengthen sectoral groups and fora familiar with issues, strategies and threats particular to forest genetic resources, the Panel stressed the need for all concerned to help ensure that due consideration be given also in the Leipzig Plant Genetic Resources Conference to the conservation, development and sustainable utilization of these valuable resources. It recommended that FAO, in collaboration with its national and international partners and with the active assistance of Members of the present Panel, help raise awareness in member countries of the need to ensure the presence at the Leipzig Conference of country delegations covering, or aware of, forest genetic resource considerations and priorities, and aware of the contributions that the forestry sector can, and should, make to overall development of nations.

13. Noting that the Leipzig Conference should be seen as a tool to increase action in the field of plant genetic resources over time rather than an end in itself, the Panel recommended that, following this important event, FAO help convene workshops to discuss tropical and sub-tropical forest genetic resources programmes and priorities, on the same lines as those held, or planned to be held, in 1995 for boreal and temperate zones and for European forest genetic resources.

14. The Panel recognized the compliance of the Secretariat with its earlier recommendations regarding overall focus of forest genetic resources activities and support to national programmes in this regard, as well as general compliance with its calls for increased cooperation with field projects coordinated both by FAO and by other international agencies, bilateral donors and development banks active in this field.

15. The Panel recommended that support continue to be given, in a balanced manner, to forest genetic resources activities in the humid tropics, the dry tropics and the sub-tropics, and that exchange of information and genetic materials among and between these zones, as applicable, be vigorously promoted. The Panel, further, stressed the need to continue to give due attention to areas marginal to plant growth in all ecological regions, with special reference to agricultural wastelands and cold deserts.

16. The Panel recommended that FAO help support networking and twinning among and between developed and developing country institutions, and actively further the sharing and transfer of experiences, technologies and know-how.

17. The Panel noted with concern the institutional turmoil presently evident in many countries, both developing and developed, and drew attention to the dangers of losing institutional memory and continuity of inherently long-term genetic resources programmes, which underpinned overall development of nations. The threats which institutional instability posed to the sustainability of natural resources, was frequently unrecognized or diminished in public and policy debate.

18. In this regard, the Panel noted that international agencies, and mechanisms operating under the auspices of these agencies, such as the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources, could help buffer against negative effects caused by institutional instability or turmoil in individual countries, and by providing and element of continuity over time. International agencies could also sound "early warning", and thus help confront emergency situations. The Panel requested that the importance of this role be fully recognized by decision makers in international agencies concerned.

19. The Panel passed a number of specific technical and scientific recommendations related to the exploration, collection, testing and evaluation, exchange, conservation in and ex situ, and utilization of forest genetic resources, including breeding and the wise use of biotechnologies as a tool in forest tree improvement. In so doing, the Panel stressed that individual, operational steps in genetic resources strategies are complementary, and are part of a "package" concerned with the overall management and sustainable use of forest genetic resources.

20. The Panel recommended, in particular, that the following activities receive continued and increased attention:

(i) Further development and documentation of methodologies and pilot activities in the in situ conservation of forest genetic resources, harmonized with sustainable forest management and wise use of the resources to meet present-day and future needs. Support to studies on ex situ conservation methods, as complements to in situ conservation. Action related to both in situ and ex situ conservation should be underpinned by special studies related to issues of particular relevance to genetic management, carried out in collaboration with interested national and international partners. These included:

- effects of patterns of land tenure, legislation and governmental incentives in forestry, agriculture and animal husbandry, on the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources;

- effects of landscape fragmentation on forest genetic resources; variables determining or influencing such effects, and ways and means to minimize possible negative influences;

- phenology, breeding systems, flowering and seed production of species representative of varying successional stages, with special reference to tropical and sub-tropical species;

-joint impact of natural environment, human influences and traditional management systems on intra-specific diversity in forestry and agroforestry species;

- development of checklists for "best practice" for the incorporation of genetic conservation aspects into forest management, plantation and tree improvement strategies.

(ii) Facilitation of exchange of forest reproductive materials, under mutually agreeable terms, for evaluation and conservation purposes. The Panel drew special attention to the following needs:

- review, discussion and agreement on mechanisms for the continued access to forest genetic resources for experimental purposes and conservation, on mutually agreeable terms;

- promotion of standards for the certification of forest reproductive materials, including materials moving in international trade and within national borders;

- development of protocols and rules guiding the safe movement of forest tree germplasm from a quarantine and health point of view;

- action to ensure availability of timely information on performance and adaptability to varying environmental conditions, management regimes and end use objectives, of given and already tested species and provenances, and of application of research results into practice;

- action to safeguard naturally occurring populations against loss of identity through genetic pollution by pollen of introduced, hybridizing species and provenances, coupled with action to urgently raise awareness of such little-publicised dangers of irreversible genetic losses, among policy makers and technical staff alike.

(iii) International coordination, and the provision of up-to-date information on the state of forest genetic resources, notably through continued development and regular up-dating of the FAO's Global Information System on Forest Genetic Resources. In this regard, the Panel noted with appreciation the efforts of FAO to develop the system notwithstanding serious resource constraints, and on-going efforts to ensure compatibility and complementarity of the FAO Information System with other, already existing or planned data bases, such as "TREESOURCE" of IPGRI, and data bases on protected areas and endangered species of the WCMC and IUCN.

(iv) Raising of awareness through the dissemination of information by traditional and electronic means, focussed on different levels of readership and a range of target audiences. In this respect, the need was stressed to continue to prepare and widely disseminate well-focussed FAO guides and manuals, and "popular versions" of such documents published in a range of languages. Special mention was made of the FAO annual newsbulletin, "Forest Genetic Resources", which was considered an especially useful vehicle for information exchange, contacts and training.

(v) Collaboration in international efforts to quantify the value of forest genetic resources and of conserving and developing such resources for their sustainable use. A unified system could help underpin efforts to prioritize species and activities at national and international levels. It could, furthermore, contribute to clarifying the rationale for inclusion of species in the priority lists of the present Panel.

21. The Panel up-dated the lists of priority species by region and by operational activity regularly elaborated by it. These lists contain species and relate to activities which the Panel, through contacts and research in the sub-region covered by each Panel member, considered of priority for action, (i) by FAO; and (ii) by other international and/or national organizations and agencies. The lists contain species of socio-economic value, and focus on those species which are of importance to more than one country, thus implying the need for collaboration at regional or international level for their conservation and development. The lists complement, and build upon, national and local lists of priority species; they also complement, and do not aim to replace, sub-sectoral lists and lists of e.g. endangered forest tree species, elaborated by other agencies and organizations.

22. In relation to the elaboration of the above priority lists, the Panel drew special attention to specific, top priority species and genera in which FAO's assistance was requested to help consolidate and link on-going or planned national level activities of importance to a range of countries, and to ensure complementarity of work between individual countries.

23. The Panel acknowledged the catalytic and leadership role of FAO at international level in the coordination of activities being carried out within the framework of the "International Neem Network", which included a number of international agencies and collaborating national institutes in 24 countries in four tropical regions. The Panel recommended that FAO continue to coordinate activities within the framework of the "International Neem Network".

24. The Panel recommended that FAO take steps to catalyze further action and to coordinate already on-going work in the conservation and sustainable use of mahogany species, initially focussing attention on species of neotropical genera of the Meliaceae in Central and South America, Activities should, in subsequent phases of the work, be expanded to cover also the Asia-Pacific and the African regions.

25. The above, strong recommendation, endorsed unanimously by the Panel, was based on the high market value of many species in a number of genera of mahoganies, which provided income and sustenance to local communities and to a large number of tropical nations; the possibility to manage them in natural stands as well as in plantations and in homesteads; and the fact that many genetically differentiated provenances were under threat of genetic depletion or extinction. It was noted that many mahogany species were of interest both in their areas of origin and in other countries and regions. Possibilities existed to intensify breeding and, potentially, to make use of inter-specific hybrids as components of such work. Problems with an insect pest (Hypsipyla) had prompted the initiation of a number of national and regional research projects and programmes, which also would benefit from additional contacts and networking.

26. Additional genera and species identified as priorities for international support and establishment or strengthening of networking action, resources permitting, included:

- Santalum spp., identified by scientists and Forest Services in the South Pacific as being of high economic and cultural value in a number of countries; several species are in danger of extinction;

- Parkia spp., leguminous species of interest to countries in Africa and Asia. Used for human nutrition and for the provision of fodder, frequently planted in farmers' fields and in homesteads. Mature trees provide excellent raw material for veneer. Little information exists of amounts and distribution of genetic diversity. Many populations are under pressure from increasing populations and domestic animals, and from environmental stres such as periodic drought;

- Casuarina spp, with special reference to Casuarina equisetifolia. A species of considerable importance in land stabilization in tropical sandy coastal areas. Amount and distribution of genetic variation and its adaptation to varying environmental conditions, is currently being assessed through a series of international provenance trials (CSIRO/FAO). The future use of the species may, however, be in jeopardy due to attack by fungal pathogens. The full potential of this threat needs to be urgently assessed and confronted.

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