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FAO forestry

Committee on Forestry - 14th Session

Delegates from 111 member countries and observers from non-member countries of FAO, from international organizations and from NGOs met at FAO Headquarters in Rome from 1 to 5 March 1999 for the 14th Session of the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO). The Committee is FAO's most important vehicle for facilitating dialogue in the forestry sector. The biennial sessions of COFO bring together heads of forest services and other senior government officials to identify emerging policy and technical issues, to seek solutions and to advise FAO and others on appropriate action.

Major policy issues

Among the major policy issues under consideration was implementation of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) agenda on forests. The Committee commended FAO for its work in this regard and its support for the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and the Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF). The Committee also approved the efforts made by the FAO-chaired Inter-Agency Task Force on Forests (ITFF) towards improved cooperation with the United Nations and its organizations with a mandate covering forestry. Member countries appealed to FAO for technical support, capacity building and assistance in the mobilization of financial resources to meet their commitments under the post-UNCED instruments related to forests, in particular the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Another major issue relates to the critical role of national forest programmes (NFPs) and related capacity building in achieving sustainable forest management. The Committee recommended that their use not be limited to developing countries and that FAO strengthen partnerships with international organizations to support NFPs in countries with low forest cover and those affected by desertification and drought.

The Committee also recognized the importance of criteria and indicators to sustainable forest management, and recommended that they be better integrated at the national- and forest management-unit levels. FAO's work on global assessments of forest resources was endorsed in anticipation of the release of the Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000). The Committee also recommended that the FAO Forestry Department's funding be made consistent with the increased role of forests in member countries and the countries' increased demands on the Organization.

FAO's global forest sector outlook studies were positively acknowledged by the Committee, which requested that they reflect the great variation between the forest sectors of different regions and countries. The Committee also stressed the importance of additional factors, including: non-wood forest products; social and environmental benefits from forests; technological change in forest harvesting and processing; trade and marketing policies (including certification); trends in the substitution of wood by other, less environmentally friendly materials; and the role of the private sector in forestry development.

In considering the national and international challenges to national forest policies for sustainability, the Committee recognized that FAO's expertise in forestry, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries and rural development allow it to play a major role in addressing the intersectoral issues that affect the diverse conditions and uses of national forests.

Many countries stressed that, while policy formulation is important, a greater challenge involves the constraints to implementation (such as a shortage of trained staff; insufficient scientific, technical and financial resources; and insufficient political commitment), which calls for considerable attention. The Committee requested FAO to put more emphasis on assisting countries in policy implementation, monitoring and evaluation and with associated institutional strengthening efforts.

Many issues of great importance to national forest policy development and implementation were identified, including the strengthening of national institutions, technology transfer, human resource development and the effective use of legal instruments.

The Committee also indicated the need to improve market access for forest goods and services in accordance with existing international commitments, and to enable the private sector to play an important role in the forest sector. Many members indicated that certification should be transparent, voluntary and market-driven, and the Committee directed FAO to remain neutral on the issue, monitor developments and provide policy advice as requested.

Several countries noted the difficulty certain developing countries faced in meeting their commitments under international agreements and other instruments, and the limited assistance provided by developed countries. Others considered that sustainable forest management could be self-supporting if adequate national policies and institutions were in place. Some indicated the desirability of creating an international forestry development fund to support sustainable forest management.

FAO forestry programme

The Committee supported FAO's general efforts to assist countries in the formulation and implementation of policies for sustainable forest management and, in particular, FAO's work on non-wood goods and services assessment; codes of practice for low-impact harvesting; community forestry programmes, including efforts in participatory forest management; forest protection, notably forest fire management and integrated pest control; and sustainable mountain development through integrated watershed management.

The Committee requested that decisive efforts be made in addressing problems in arid and semi-arid areas and countries with low forest cover, including combating desertification and mitigating drought through vegetation management, reforestation, afforestation and soil management; wildlife management in forest areas, particularly in Africa; and an analysis of the role of protected areas in sustainable forest management.

FAO Strategic Framework (2000-2015)

The Committee commended the values, mission and vision of the FAO Strategic Framework for 2000-2015. In particular, it stressed that its goals should be consistent with those of the World Food Summit Plan of Action and agreed with the emphasis given to interdisciplinarity and cooperation and partnerships and alliances.

The Committee agreed that FAO was a centre of excellence in forestry and recommended that this field be given greater prominence in the Strategic Framework. It also recommended that the mission, goals and objectives given in the Strategic Plan for Forestry should be more closely integrated into the Strategic Framework.

The Committee commended FAO for the participatory and transparent manner in which the Forestry Strategic Plan had been developed. The mission statement, goals, medium-term objectives and vision for the future were broadly accepted. The Forestry Department was asked to develop quantifiable objectives and indicators to allow monitoring and evaluation of progress. The Committee also requested that more attention be given to afforestation and reforestation in countries with low forest cover or subject to desertification; sustainable wildlife management; and Small Island Developing States.

The Committee agreed to hold its next session in Rome in early March 2001.

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