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Green gold

This is the title of a new documentary film about forests and timber, shortly to be released in theaters throughout the world.* Produced for the United Nations by Svensk Filmindustri, the film emphasizes that the nations of the world must work together to ensure that their forests are perpetuated and used for the good of all. This article serves as an introduction to the film for the general public. It also outlines the steps taken by FAO's 58 member countries in their efforts to promote the better development of their forest resources through FAO.

* Distribution is available through the United Nations Department of Public Information, Lake Success, New York U.S.A. Length 20 min., B and W, size 16 or 35 mm. Narration English, French, Swedish.

On a summer's day in a peaceful valley in Sweden, the film Green Gold discovers a farmer plowing in his fields, while in the village nearby the daily life goes on. A carpenter repairs a house, a child plays on a swing, and a housewife cooks the family meal. None of these daily activities would be possible without wood. So, although all summer long the life of the village is focused on the cultivation of the fields, as winter approaches the farmer and his neighbors take up their second occupation of forestry. While the fields lie under the heavy snows, they take their horses and sleds into the surrounding forests. Now the village life revolves around the forests which echo with the sound of axes and saws, and the crash of falling trees. The horse-drawn timber logs are carried down snow roads to the lakes and the rivers to form the second link in the chain between the forest, farm, and home.

Another link in this chain is forged with the coming of spring. When the ice melts, the logs come jostling down the rivers, moving slower and slower as they near the sea. In the coastal waters, men and women sort the logs, guiding them to the sawmill and the pulp factory. Now the chain extends, the sawmill makes lumber for houses, and from the pulp factory comes paper, the most commonly used article of daily life. Some of the logs take a bypath and become telegraph poles and plywood, or are made into almost anything from furniture to airplanes.

Many of these wood products are loaded into ships and traded in the world's centers of finance and industry; Millions of people will use these articles, and millions more will make a living directly or indirectly from the world's forests; and, when the forester is paid for his "green gold" the last link in the chain is closed.

"Yes, timber is green gold," the film says, "but the forest is not a gold mine to be ruthlessly exploited." It may take 70 years to grow a tree, but only 70 seconds to cut it down; and, when the forests are destroyed, nature strikes back. Disaster may begin with a storm raging over farms and fields unprotected by forests. The water splashing unhindered over the land washes away the rich topsoil, and the angry rivers swell and flood their banks. In a very short time, once prosperous farms disappear, and their owners face ruin.

The forests of the world must be preserved if only because they are the guardians of soil and water. They protect the land against soil erosion, create great water reserves, influence the climate, and sometimes even supply the farmer with the very soil on which he grows his crops. The tie between the forests and the farms is made stronger, because in most countries the farmer depends on the forest lands for his house, his barns, his fuel, and his fences, and he is the man who must do most to preserve them.

In Sweden and other parts of Europe, the farmer-forester may manage his woodlots properly, but he will still take his forest wealth for granted. He knows that there is plenty of wood for the daily needs of his family, and that he will be able to sell much more besides. Yet in India, China, and many other countries in Asia, the foresters know that their denuded forests cannot provide enough wood for even the barest needs of fuel and housing for everyone. In the Near East, there is no longer any great forest wealth; a few groves are all that remains of the cedars of Lebanon, famous in Biblical times, and the once fertile agricultural lands around them are now an arid desert.

But in other continents, notably Latin America, great virgin timber forests exist, unexploited and often unmapped. In addition to the tropical forests made up of an infinite variety of species, there are some nearly pure stands of commercial timber. For many technical and economic reasons these forests have never been tapped, but none of these reasons provides any justification for allowing this situation to last. Through the use of modern techniques it is possible within the next generation to make Latin America one of the large suppliers of forest products to a prosperous world.

Of the four thousand million hectares of forest soils in the world, only one-third has been taken into use. The yield from these exploited forests is about one ton of wood products to every hectare. Yet with proper management, forests can be made to yield at least two tons of wood products from every hectare. This would mean doubling the amount of wood products available to the people of all continents.

The first link in the chain between the forest, farm, and home. Farm woodlands in a peaceful valley in Sweden.

There is no doubt that there is a great pent-up demand for wood products. According to the statisticians, one-third of all humanity, living in Europe, North America, and Russia, use 80 percent of all timber and 90 percent of all pulp produced in the world. Yet, 15 hundred million people living in other regions of the world need wood just as much. Besides this potential demand, the recent discoveries made by wood chemists and technologists of the manifold new uses of wood products have already created a further demand for wood, beyond the basic needs for fuel and housing.

In times of world economic crisis when markets seem to be saturated with wood, many foresters in the great timber producing countries of Europe and North America might well believe that there is already too much wood in the world. But if all the nations of the world worked together to solve the difficult but not impossible problem of increasing the purchasing power of underdeveloped countries, then millions more people could afford to buy these wood products, and those who produce the wood would be sure of getting a fair price for it. With a properly charted course for forest development and with the aid of science, billions of tons of additional goods, from nutritious protein yeasts and plastics to paper and houses, could be extracted from the forests each year to usher in a new era in the use of wood.

This is the theme of the new United Nations film Green Gold. It is also the basic idea behind the formation of the Division of Forestry and Forest Products of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO is charged by its member countries with the job of increasing the yields of their farms, forests, and fisheries, and the Division of Forestry and Forest Products has the specific job of increasing the world's wood supplies. It seeks to carry out this job by encouraging the member countries to reduce waste of wood in logging, manufacture, and use, to improve domestic and international distribution, to increase the yields from existing forests by scientific methods, and to create new forests. The very name of the Division gives a clue to its general policy. It is recognized that there can be no dividing line between the forest and its products, because the forest crop is an industrial crop that once cut is transformed into an infinite variety of products. It would be as illogical for FAO to consider only the forests themselves as to consider the planting of grain and animal husbandry without giving thought to the nutrition needs of a hungry world.

The second link in the chain. In the winter, horses and sleds bring down logs to frozen lakes and rivers.

During its three years of operations, the Division has taken several important steps forward in this great venture. It has started on the immense job of fact-finding, for there is at present no source which gives even a close evaluation of all the world's forest resources. It has taken over many of the multifarious international forestry bodies that competed with each other before the war. It is mapping the course to be pursued by the world's laboratories in their attempts to solve the many difficulties in the way of transforming wood into useful products. Backed by 58 member countries, it will continue to give such help until yesterday's transient sawmills are transformed into tomorrow's stable and large-scale forest industries.

The film Green Gold gives only a hint of the ramifications of this work, but it does provide a glimpse of the Marianske-Lazne Conference, held in Czechoslovakia in 1947, which was the forerunner of other conferences arranged by FAO, where nations came together to fit their national forestry plans into a broad regional pattern. Europe was selected as the first area for FAO action, because of the tremendous shortage of timber which followed in the wake of the last war. The work in Europe was carried out in three phases which have since been adopted as the pattern for action in all the other regions of the world.

In the first phase, FAO experts went to Europe to review the situation at first hand. They found that the forests of Europe had been drained of one-sixth of their trees since 1937, while countries were still cutting more trees than they could well afford to rebuild factories and buttress mine walls so that needed coal could be produced. They found that timber extraction equipment was worn out, and the horses formerly used in transporting the logs had disappeared and not been replaced. When men were available they could not always go into the mountain forests to cut wood for the spring thaw because they lacked good food, warm clothing, and shoes that would stand up to their heavy work. Meanwhile, housing waited for lumber. According to a recent survey made in 15 European countries, over a million and a half houses are needed each year for the next five years. In the face of this unprecedented demand, these same countries are able to build only about half a million houses a year. Real timber needs, then, were enormous, but because most countries did not have enough foreign currencies to buy timber from abroad, they had to lower their demands to under half of what they really needed. In general, international trade and normal channels of distribution had been completely disrupted by the war, and there was no international machinery capable of getting it moving again. An acute timber crisis seemed inevitable.

FAO put into operation the second phase of its program and arranged for 27 European nations to get together at the International Timber Conference at Marianske-Lazne. Here, the experts got busy with their pencils and figured that in 1948 Europe would need about three million more standards of lumber than it could possibly obtain under existing conditions. A bold step had to be taken. The nations agreed to cut 10 percent more trees than they had planned and to use lumber only where it was absolutely necessary. This was largely done and it gave Europe about two and a half million extra standards of badly needed timber that year.

However, this drastic solution meant a further drain on the already depleted forests of Europe. This problem was recognized at Marianske-Lazne. FAO therefore decided to put into operation the third phase of the program. This was done by setting up a European Forestry and Forest Products Commission, which has the responsibility of promoting all aspects of good forest management, and encouraging European countries to look again at their national forest plans in the light of future world conditions. This office recently reported that all the large-scale regeneration and replanting of forests recommended at Marianske-Lazne to offset the temporary drastic increase in cuttings are now being carried out.

While these three phases of the FAO program were being put into practice, a new international agency appeared on the scene - the United Nations Economic

Commission for Europe. This agency is charged with the general responsibility for promoting the economic reconstruction and development of the continent. Together, FAO and ECE decided to set up a Timber Committee within the framework of ECE, to continue work on the emergency problems of the European timber supply. Towards the end of last year, the gap between Europe's immediate timber needs and supplies, which two years ago had seemed one of the most alarming aspects of European reconstruction, was substantially closed. Now the task is to obtain more timber for the real needs of the European communities.

The Committee has a plan designed to increase the exports of European softwoods by 120 million dollars worth of timber during the next two years. The plan calls for obtaining this timber by placing at the disposal of the producing countries about 16 million dollars worth of forestry equipment, ranging from leather harnesses to complete sawmills. After a survey of the supplies available in Europe and North America, it was discovered that only about half of this equipment would have to be purchased with dollars, because much of what was needed was manufactured in Europe and could be obtained in exchange for timber. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development also agreed in principle to extend credits to interested countries for the purchase of the equipment which was needed from the United States of America. Negotiations for these timber loans are now in an advanced stage, but final trade and finance agreements have as yet only been signed with Finland. In return for this help, European wood producers pledged themselves to export the extra timber supplies made possible by the use of this new equipment. With the signing of other agreements between the various countries concerned and the Bank, more lumber will be made available, and Europe will have taken a great step forward in the modernization of its forest industries.

In Latin America, FAO followed the same program of action. In the first phase, members of FAO's staff travelled all over the continent sizing up the timber situation. They already knew that the virgin forests of Latin America cover over 850 million hectares of land, and are made-up of a great variety of species. They also knew that despite this untold wealth, Latin America today imports perhaps twice as much wood as it exports. They wanted to find out how these timber lands could be developed. Obviously, it would take a common program of action subscribed to by all Latin-American countries before the gigantic task of exploiting new wood species and building up forest industries could really get under way. These men reported back to FAO headquarters their conversations with top forestry officials of Latin America on development possibilities, and it was decided to put the second phase of the program into operation.

The chain extends. Sorting logs for the sawmills and the pulp factory.

In May 1948, 18 countries attended the Latin-American Conference on Forestry and Forest Products at Teresopolis, Brazil. The nations at this Conference represented four major interests in Latin-American forestry development. Within the Latin-American group were countries which have tremendous reserves of forest wealth. The second group consisted of the highly industrialized nations from which the machinery and equipment for exploitation of these forests would have to come. The European nations present at the Conference formed a third group, which was interested in future export possibilities. The fourth group was made up of the European and North American forestry experts who had previous firsthand experience of forest conditions in Latin-American countries, and thus could help these countries define their problems.

The outstanding achievement of the Teresopolis Conference was the unanimous agreement of all interested governments of Latin America to press forward with the establishment of concrete action programs of development. Aided by FAO, the countries started listing their immediate equipment and credit requirements. They made preparations for complete inventories of their forest resources, the extension of national forest services, and the setting up of research and training facilities on an international basis for all Latin-American countries. The nature of the obstacles to be overcome is well illustrated by the problem of training sufficient foresters. Latin America needs over 1,000 professional and over 2,000 semiprofessional trained foresters to assure the proper management of its magnificent forest resources. Yet, today there are only some 300 professional and 450 semiprofessional foresters at work, and many of these need more intensive training.

To keep in intimate touch with the national forestry plans, FAO set up a permanent Forestry and Forest Products Office for Latin America in Rio de Janeiro early in 1949. With the establishment of a Latin-American Forestry and Forest Products Commission, which has already held its first session, the third phase of FAO's preparatory action was completed for this region. The basic job of this Commission is to induce all Latin-American countries to adopt specific development programs for their forests and forest industries within a regional framework.

At its first meeting this Commission adopted an initial report on the amount of capital and equipment needed for the development of the continental forests. Further investigation had shown up another aspect of the question, namely, that lack of equipment is not the real obstacle to development. Before equipment can be used there must be an industry capable of using it, and at present such an industry can be found only in a few instances, and on a very small scale. Therefore, the emphasis of this report was centered on the needs for capital, industrial leadership, and markets for the systematic development of modern forest industries in the various countries.

It can be seen that the problem of making full use of these tropical forests has many aspects, and the task is certainly not an easy one. Research and tests must take place before forest industries can be established in the Amazon Valley and other tropical forest areas of this continent. It is therefore proposed to set up as soon as possible one or two so-called "forestry combinates" in tropical areas. Such a combinate is based on principles of full use and systematic management of a fairly large forest area. This is achieved by setting up a variety of mutually complementary industries such as a pulp mill, a sawmill, a plywood mill, and possibly plants capable of manufacturing a number of chemical products. In this way the waste from one operation becomes raw material for the others, and yields which in isolated industries are as low as 20 percent of the volume of wood cut, can be raised to 60 or 80 percent.

If this approach is successful, it will supply the key to open up one of the world's largest storehouses of renewable wealth, capable of supplying almost any kind of product, both for the home needs of the people of Latin America and for export to other continents.

Unlike the American and European regions, the Far East has relatively small forest resources. As a result, the very dense populations in this region have to get along with a small fraction of the wood available to the people of Europe and the two Americas. The need for wood is so large that it would be futile to expect to fulfill it in a short time either from the Par Eastern forests or from heavy contributions from other continents. This shortage of wood is very largely due to centuries of forest destruction and poor management, brought about in turn by the tremendous pressure on the land of the ever-growing population. So great has been the need for food in many countries that cultivation of crops has been attempted on hillsides on which forests should never have been cut. In other countries, forests have been completely cut down and the areas they once occupied are now barren and infertile. The resulting widespread erosion of the farm lands has today reached alarming proportions and threatens the very existence of millions of people. There is no real way out of this vicious circle except by helping governments to plan and carry out large-scale replantings of the treeless expanses. Meanwhile, through the sound development of the few remaining unexploited forests, the increase of timber exports from the more heavily forested areas to other parts of the region, and the better use of existing supplies, much can be done to relieve the two most urgent needs, namely, fuelwood and cheap lumber for housing and other construction work.

In this region FAO has completed the first two phases of its forestry development program. After the preliminary contacts had been made with the leading forestry officials of the Far East, the Forestry and Timber Utilization Conference was called in Mysore, India, in 1949. This was the first international meeting ever held on the forestry problems of Asia and the Pacific, and the response of the 10 countries attending this meeting was enthusiastic.

On the immediate problem of getting more fuelwood and charcoal to the villages, the delegates at this Conference agreed on a variety of measures for governments to translate into action. Much more timber is available than is generally recognized, but it must be moved from areas of plenty to areas of scarcity and it must be used economically. Modern charcoal kilns and modern sawmills would reduce waste in the use of wood and thus stretch available supplies.

Photographs in this article by courtesy of:

Canadian National Film Board
U. N. Department of Public Information
Royal Norwegian Information Services
Swedish Tourist Traffic Association

On the outstanding problem of soil erosion control, the Conference asked each government of the region to set up a central authority to plan and carry out good land use and soil conservation practices. It proposed that laws be passed in each country enabling the government to act whenever these practices are neglected, either on state-owned or private lands. It also called for bold schemes for protecting and replanting trees at the headwaters of the great rivers of this region, as well as for large-scale reforestation projects. All these measures will be promoted actively by the recently established FAO Ear Eastern Forestry and Forest Products Working Group.

The third phase of the program is scheduled for 1950, with the setting up of the Asia and Pacific Forestry and Forest Products Commission which was requested at the Mysore Conference.

FAO has also begun work in the other forest regions of the world. In the Near East, where forest restoration is one of the greatest needs, the first phase of the development program is now being carried out by member countries. Exploratory travel in Africa has also been started and information is being exchanged between FAO and the forestry officials of the countries making up this region. In the North American region, comprising the United States of America, Canada, and Alaska, excellent forest services already exist for the proper management of the tremendous resources, and the big industrial companies are increasingly practicing good forestry. The remaining great forest region of the world is in the U.S.S.R. This country is not yet a member of FAO but the Government of the Soviet Union is pursuing measures which hold great promise for a sound development of the country's immense forests.

So long as want exists in the world, the immediate task of FAO is to increase the present supplies of food and wood and get them to where they are most wanted. But the task for the future is to bring about a wiser use of land so that there shall emerge a world better fed and better sheltered. For both of these tasks we must call upon the forest, for beyond its role as the protector of crops and conserver of water, the forest is the factory that produces earth's foremost renewable resource - wood.

Slitting newsprint into sizes required by news presses. The money which you pay for your morning newspaper will in art filter back to the forester, thus completing the chain.

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