Dialogue at the international level is an essential complement to the efforts of individual countries to develop appropriate forest policies, institutions and practices. Foremost among the means FAO places at the disposal of its member countries is the Committee on Forestry (COFO).
Heads of forest services and other senior government officials meet at FAO headquarters every two years to identify emerging policy and technical issues, to seek solutions and to advise FAO and others on appropriate action.
Other international organizations and, increasingly, non-governmental groups participate in COFO. As the need arises, FAO also convenes special fore of forestry ministers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.
Forests and trees protect the land and water resources on which agriculture depends.
Six regional forestry commissions complement the work of COFO, one each for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the Near East and North America. The commissions normally meet between COFO sessions and provide a forum for member countries to discuss both technical and policy issues at the regional level.
Drawing on regional experiences, the commissions advise FAO on policy formulation and on priorities for its forestry programme. The regional commissions facilitate the participation of NGOs, particularly local organizations, and the private sector.
The regional commissions often work through special subsidiary bodies. For example, the Forest Genetic Resources study group of the North American Forest Commission has secured grants to fund studies of several species of North American spruce and pine. The group also aided the establishment of the Mexican Centro de Genética Forestal, launched the "World directory of forest geneticists and tree breeders" and has published a Spanish-English glossary of terms for forest genetics and tree improvement.
FAO also supports and benefits from the advice of a number of statutory technical bodies that meet regularly to focus on specific areas of forestry development and management. For example, the Advisory Committee on Paper and Wood Products was established by the FAO Council in October 1996 to subsume and broaden the mandate of two long-standing advisory bodies, the FAO Committee on Wood-Based Panel Products and the FAO Advisory Committee on Pulp and Paper.
The merging of these two committees and the expansion of their mandate to include all wood-based forest industries will provide FAO and its member countries with a forum for broader and more coherent coverage of all aspects of sustainable development of the sector; it will ensure input from both government and the private sector across the range of issues; and it is in line with the trend in both developed and developing countries to incorporate all forest industry subsectors into one national professional association.