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Forests and economic development

The Role and Place of Forested Areas in the General Land Economy and Economic Development of a Country

Principles for the framing of forest policy
Program of the Fourth World Forestry Congress

Over the past 150 years the world has evolved at a more rapid pace than ever previously, due to the power placed in man's hands by science and technology. New knowledge and achievements have in fact enabled man to alter his physical environment, for better or worse, within a space of time relatively short compared with the slow aeons of change effected by earlier civilizations.

It is true that some parts of the world have superficially still been little touched by this evolution which in relation to the whole course of human affairs, might justifiably be termed a revolution. But since ever wider trade and spread of ideas are characteristics of today, all areas will surely be affected sooner or later although perhaps in different ways, by the many physical, social and political sequels which circumstances now bring in train.

Impact on land use

The slow evolution of early centuries led to patterns of land use that were sometimes durable but more frequently transitory. Moreover, developments did not work in one direction only; for instance, in time of peace or population growth, there was more rapid clearing of land for cultivation or grazing, while in time of protracted war, which was sometimes accompanied by the downfall of entire civilizations, the forest often regained all or part of its lost terrain. The outcome differed, too, with the region, the climate, and the type of civilization. In many parts of the world, the natural severity of the climate prevented the forest or other vegetation types from regaining a hold on cleared land where plant cover is normally vital to anchor any soil or conserve its fertility; natural or induced grasslands were overgrazed and indiscriminately burned, and turned into desert. Elsewhere, for various reasons, and not least because populations remained small, the natural plant cover retained its entity.

Throughout the history of this long evolution, man through his method of living has constantly interfered to upset any possibility of an equilibrium being established between land under permanent cultivation or cultivated in rotation, and land covered with forest or natural vegetation.

The greater speed of events today has- already had, and will doubtless continue to have, a similar impact but the results become evident more rapidly and violently. Therefore, man must control misuse if he has any desire to obviate the sudden onset of damage on the scale that in the past took many centuries to bring about. The Fourth World Forestry Congress can, therefore, with advantage turn the light of modern knowledge and experience on the whole subject of forests and forest ranges, their distribution, their effects on the physical environment, their utility values, and the balance between land dedicated to forests and that required for intensive use, against the background of expanding national economies.

Growth of world population

It may be opportune here to run over the factors that have particularly affected any balance between the forest, in the broadest sense of the word, and cultivated land.

The first is obviously the pressure of growing world population. This pressure may be assuaged by finding new land for cultivation to provide food supplies for the increasing number of mouths. Land cultivated in former times and then abandoned and become degraded, can in some cases be rehabilitated though the cost may be high; other land can be rendered fertile by irrigation; but clearly it is virgin or scarcely touched forest that greedy eyes look to for more soil for cultivation, and usually where the quality of the forest crop demonstrates the goodness of the land.

At the same time the larger world population, with aspirations to higher standards of living which in turn rest on the development of national economies, brings in train a greater demand for wood as a raw material than ever before. These increased requirements could, it has been estimated, well be satisfied in the aggregate by the present areas under forest, provided the growing stock were properly managed and utilized, which is often far from the case. Any reduction of presently forested areas on a large scale for agricultural uses might jeopardize timber supplies and the pinch would be felt most by just those areas where forest resources were most meager.

Drift to the cities

A second factor to come to mind is the shift in relative numbers between people living in towns and the country. This shift, which inevitably accompanies industrialization, is itself a sign of economic and social development. It does not necessarily, at least in countries with a high birth rate, lead to a decline in the rural population, but as the numbers of non-producers, agriculturally speaking, in urban areas grow, the country population must produce more to support them. This increased production can be obtained by bringing into cultivation relatively less productive land still under natural cover; generally countries pass quickly this stage of economic and social development and the emphasis then is rather on intensive high-yield farming of the better soils and abandonment of marginal lands, which then revert to natural vegetation.

At first glance, this would seem to favor the forest but the exodus from the countryside can in other respects adversely affect the general economy and forestry too.


A third factor variously affecting the forest is the development of communications. In the first place ease of communication accelerates the drift to the towns alluded to above. Looked at from another angle, it facilitates settlement in areas as yet undeveloped. Colonization of this sort will doubtless eat into nearby forests but may, on the other hand, permit the working of stands hitherto of only theoretical value, because the long-distance haul of timber from them just did not pay.

It is generally enough recognized that overseas transport of wood in the round from one continent to another is uneconomic except in the case of very highly-prized timbers. However, the improvement of communications between countries of one region does foster some specialization in forest production in countries where climatic conditions are especially favorable to the growing of particular products. Again, the expansion of roads, railways or water routes makes it cheaper to supply rural populations with alternate fuels to wood, particularly mineral fuels, and this affects the categories of wood products required of the forest. A final example is that better communications under certain circumstances, facilitate the establishment of complex forest industries that must draw on extensive areas of forest for their supplies. Under different circumstances, however, notably where there is considerable fragmentation of forest holdings, the effect may be a multiplicity of small industries, inefficient and wasteful of raw material.

Improvement of farming techniques

Better farming methods can also have various and even entirely opposing effects upon the forest. First, land may be put to the plough that hitherto has been regarded as best maintained under natural cover, perhaps because the slope was too steep or the soil too poor. Thus improvement in farming techniques or rather in soil conservation practices and in maintenance of soil fertility, may lead to a definite reduction in land under forest. On the other hand improved techniques sometimes permit a considerable increase in productivity of land already under cultivation, which results in turn in the abandonment of marginal land and the recapture of such land by forest. Coupled with a decline in rural manpower and the frequent trend toward specialized farming, this factor may also cause a complete changeover in the type of agriculture practiced in a given region; lack of manpower, for instance, may foster concentration on livestock farming where hitherto there had been mixed farming; then forest grazing may need to play an important part. In other instances, on the contrary, mixed farming may replace a purely pastoral way of life which is outmoded, and this may greatly relieve the pressure of livestock on the forest and forest-range zones, enabling headway to be made with reforestation or at least the introduction of efficient range management on areas depleted after long misuse.

Development of industries

Allusion has already been made to the impact of economic development in general, and industrial development in particular, on wood consumption. But industrial growth raises other forestry problems which must be considered. For instance, large industrialized cities require regular and ample supplies of good clean water, both for human consumption and industrial use. Much of this must be supplied by reservoirs, the value of which will rapidly diminish unless silting is effectively controlled. This all points to the need for intelligent management of the upper watersheds that are generally forest range zones. Often these zones are already degraded owing to excessive exploitation of trees or overgrazing and need to be rehabilitated, which in turn means, if not closure and reforestation, at least better utilization of the forest and range resources of the whole basins. Then we may consider that cities, as they grow larger, require "green belts" around or even within their boundaries to provide healthy surroundings and recreational facilities; all modern town planning takes this into account.

This leads to another reflection. The urge towards industrial development leads to search for raw materials on which this can be based. Prospecting for minerals, ores and oil goes on everywhere, but many countries will find that they are poor in such resources. The growing of industrial crops is often limited by land scarcity, and has frequently to compete with regular farming. In any case, reliance on a few industrial crops, vulnerable to fluctuations on world markets, is dangerous to the national economy. This being so, some underdeveloped countries well endowed with forests might give more attention to basing their industrial development on the utilization of wood, choosing for pattern perhaps the prosperous countries of northern Europe. Remember that in some parts of the Far East where steel is scarce, there is serious contemplation of the idea of substituting wood in its place for many uses.

Wood in fact may be regarded in many senses as a new raw material with unlimited potentialities for building up both primary and secondary industries - always provided adequate areas are kept under forest in any given country and properly managed to assure continuous supplies of raw materials.

Advances in forestry practices

Among the factors of the "revolution" of these past 150 years that must directly affect the future of our forests, obviously progress in the techniques and art of forestry itself must not be overlooked. Forest research has naturally aimed at producing better quality and quantity of growing stock and yield; presuming that the methods found by research and perfected by experience are of general application, this should mean that a reduced forest area can meet increasing needs. For many reasons this has not happened yet and there is a long way to go and many conditions still to be fulfilled before scientific forestry, or agriculture for that matter, can assure that any particular plot of land can be used to the maximum of its capability on a sustained-yield basis.

Nevertheless, there have been some achievements in silviculture that really seem to open new vistas for forest policy.

The most striking perhaps has been the use of certain species, often strictly local in their origin, which when introduced to other similar ecological environments but far from their natural habitat, proved to be exceptionally rapid growing and of high economic value. Examples are Pinus radiata and certain other softwood species of the interior and west coast of North America, some eucalypts, acacias, and poplars. Sometimes the introduction of such species has given a new look to forest policy. In their natural habitats these species have been neglected or valued only for protection or amenity, but in their new range much effort has been lavished on them. They have even been introduced as speculative ventures; planted on good soils, the profit they can yield where wood is otherwise scarce, has enabled them to compete to advantage with agricultural crops so that sometimes they are grown on soils that perhaps would better have been used for farming.

Mention of such species raises another point in regard to allocating land between farm and forest. In many countries farm and forest, or at least trees, have long been complementary, in the main because of the protection against erosion or parching winds that they afford rather than for any value of their products. Windbreaks or shelter belts of trees are far from being of negligible importance today; on the contrary, research into their value and sometimes grandiose projects on the ground have tended to assume more and more prominence; but the farmer, even the small farmer, is also today becoming increasingly interested in having on his farm a small woodlot, even single trees or borders, that in a few years can bring in a useful income. This trend enables the undoubted benefits accruing from farm woodlands to be received by farmers in areas or communities where no form of communal forest is available. At the same time in many countries the state authorities have undertaken to provide plantations for communities where supplies of wood are meager or otherwise difficult to procure. Just as a well managed communal forest can provide a community with means of augmenting its income and occasional funds for special expensive works such as roads and piped water supplies, so the farmer may well consider his small woodlot or group of trees as a savings account on which to draw when he wants to make improvements to his land or home. The farm woodlot to this extent may solve in part the problem of agricultural credit. Remember also that some trees, aside from the wood they produce, can supply the farm with a useful feed supplement for man and beast in the form of fruits or leaves. Even full-scale plantations of certain species that yield marketable products on a short rotation, need only interfere with cultivation for a few years since grazing and even crops can be had under the tree cover during most of the rotation.

Rapid-growth species may also be planted on an extensive scale to feed a particular industry or factory, or to meet a particular purpose. Industries using wood for fuel and power generation often find it more convenient to establish nearby plantations of rapid-growth species than to count on supplies from scattered natural forests often far removed and requiring complicated extraction schedules if a sustained-yield is to be obtained.

New wood-use possibilities

The last factor in this "revolution," or rather the last we shall deal with here because our list is not exhaustive, is the new uses for wood which have come about. This is a theme much talked of and one discussed at the Third World Forestry Congress in a way that led to some confused thinking. The utilization of wood broken down into its constituent elements, to a degree depending on the particular industry, is steadily growing as compared with traditional methods of using this raw material in solid form. Industries are increasingly able to use more various categories of wood and "wood-waste" formerly abandoned or burned. The result is not only a much fuller and more efficient utilization of the basic raw material but also a change in cutting and extraction practices and in forest management. This may be of even greater significance for tropical forests than for forests of temperate zones, as may be brought out during the discussions on tropical forestry at the Fourth World Forestry Congress.

Further, this sort of development obviously conduces to the creation of big groupings (unidades) of wood-using industries; the growing strength of such enterprises in many countries is itself an indication of the great changes that have occurred in the last half-century in the approach to the utilization of the raw material, wood. It is plain, however, that as such industrial empires are created, the forests must be perpetuated to supply their requirements. This requires not just sound working plans and efficient management methods, but may also need legislation and regulations at the governmental level. In short, it takes deliberate action to bring about integration between the forest and industries.

Principles for the framing of forest policy

Confronted with so many factors to take into account, each with some different and maybe contradictory bearing on the use of land for forest, are there any guiding principles for the framing of forest policy?

It appears to have been generally accepted that there are, considering that the member countries of FAO, working through the Sixth Session of the Conference of FAO in 1951, adopted a set of "Principles of Forest Policy" which had been formulated in compliance with a recommendation of the Third World Forestry Congress, meeting at Helsinki in 1949.

Soil and water conservation

These principles are disarmingly simple yet truly comprehensive, but they concern only a particular aspect of the broader picture of land use in general. We want a formula for basic principles of overall soil and water conservation and use, remembering that the soil is the prime resource of the world as we know it. We endanger or destroy the soil at our peril; any sound policy of land use must be synonymous with soil conservation and be in conformity with basic principles of soil use.

Foresters alone cannot be expected to formulate such principles. Forestry, despite the many utility values and services of the forest, is only one form of land use; but foresters should certainly have a say in framing principles of this kind in view of the vital contribution that forested areas and forest-range zones make to soil conservation, the halting of accelerated erosion, regulation of streamflow and the production of the water supplies necessary today to industry and cities. How much more readily would forest policy receive a hearing from governments if it were clearly grounded on universal principles of land use and conservation subscribed to unanimously by the governments themselves. Some governments have already declared themselves to be of this way of thinking, and the urgency of the matter may perhaps be summed up by quoting from a recent article in Unasylva: *

"Our present civilization provides man with so much more powerful means than in the past of affecting mankind itself and the natural environment - so powerful, in fact, as to make it possible to remodel nature - that it can either hasten soil degradation beyond all previous measure or end it."

* Unasylva, Vol. VII, No. 4, December 1953. "Soil Conservation," by Saleh-ud-din Ahmad.

The regional approach to forest policy

If the basic "principles of forest policy" of FAO seem too broad to serve as an effective model, there are many ways of spelling them out to make a more precise guide to individual countries.

First, there is the regional approach. The problems inherent in forest conservation and use and the development of forest industries differ in their details from one part of the world to another.

Europe and North America have to solve their problems of increasing the productivity of the forest and of industry under comparatively easy conditions; their forests are relatively homogeneous, research is well-organized and widespread, and their professional foresters have a long background of experience. But peculiar difficulties are often presented by the fragmentation of forest ownership, by varied systems of land tenure, intense competition for land, and the dispersal of wood-using industries.

The main problems in Latin America are bringing vast extents of practically still virgin forest under management, in conjunction with land settlement and development; the expansion of transport; the development of domestic and foreign markets for forest products; the establishment of new forest industries; creating local supplies for urban areas; and rehabilitation of eroded land. The difficulties that stand in the way are many, not least because comprehension of forest policy is mostly in its infancy.

In the Near East the urgent problem is to take care of and improve the areas of forest range that have received such harsh treatment in the past. At the same time, local wood supplies must be provided by forming small plantations and woodlots on farms or by creating larger irrigated plantations in suitable locations. Here the close tie between forest policy and general land use policy is perhaps more striking than elsewhere.

Then in the Far East there is a medley of problems and difficulties to be faced. Conditions vary from arid to the humid tropics, from continental to oceanic climates; in some countries dense overpopulation, in others freedom to move reflected in the different character of the peoples; generally a high state of development of silviculture but little attention hitherto paid to utilization and industry.

Some real progress has been made in the past few years in shaping what might be called regional forest policies. Through the medium of FAO and its European Forestry Commission, and basing their assessment of probable future trends on an analytical survey entitled "European Timber Trends and Prospects," European countries have tried to take a composite view of policy for Europe. In Africa and Asia and Latin America more countries have defined their national policies in accord with principles applicable to regions as a whole. However, the data on which true regional policies could be established, as has been attempted in Europe, are in general lacking; for instance true figures of forest areas, their useful growing stock and productive capacity and of how forest products are actually used and consumed. In time, however, there will be progress in individual countries and, through mutual co-operation and exchange of views, there will come about a gradual clarification of regional forest policy, transcending present political issues.

The approach by subject

There is another way of approaching the determination of forest policy and that is to treat each aspect separately. For instance there are several clearly defined subject matters of general policy interest such as grazing in the forest or on forest ranges; forest fires; or the wider development of pulp and paper industries throughout the world. Perhaps decisions and broad policy lines should be arrived at first in regard to each such topic, and the several results then be co-ordinated into one world forest policy, in the same way as forest policies should be brought into conformity with broad principles of soil and water use and conservation. Before they can be applicable to individual countries, such subject matter policies must still be adapted region-wise so, in the final analysis, a combined regional and subject-by-subject approach seems to be the most effective way of proceeding.

Importance of international co-operation

It will certainly be said that to talk of regional and world forest policies at this stage is like trying to put up the roof before you have built the foundations and the walls: first each country must define its own national policy in accordance with its respective physical, economic and social conditions. This objection is perfectly valid, even if we point out that forests and climates do not respect political boundaries. Of course, international action cannot usurp or substitute each government's responsibility for defining and implementing its own policy on the basis of the findings of its own experts. But this is not the same as saying that international action in this field is of little or no value.

To adopt this attitude shows little understanding of the very great influence exerted on, or rather the unique service rendered to, the framing of forest policies in even the most advanced countries by the international exchange of information, ideas and experts.

There have always been some influential minds in every country that have understood the importance of the forest to the national economy and in the conservation of soil and water. There have been local authorities or national governments that have heeded these individuals and taken steps to halt dangerous exploitation of natural resources or to direct forest production along lines serving the general interests of the country. But forest policies, as understood today, based on a scientific conception of silviculture and forest management and not on either purely commercial considerations (which have sometimes led to forest despoliation) or conservation strictly interpreted (which has sometimes meant jealously preserving forest resources without putting them to any practical use), evolved at approximately the same time in several European countries. Through the exchange of ideas among these countries' experts, policies were altered and refined: then the concept spread at varying speeds throughout the world through example and travel.

Ever since deliberate forest policies in the modern sense were first propounded, international exchanges have played a prominent part in their development. This will continue, the more so that there are international agencies to speed the work. FAO now an organization used confidently as an instrument by 71 sovereign governments. In the special field of forestry there is every advantage for FAO to sponsor international congresses such as the Fourth World Forestry Congress which brings together individual experts from many countries to voice their experience and opinions and give technical advice on the problems that exercise governments at the policy-making level.

Function of world congresses

Like national forest policy, regional and world forest policies can be based only on the conclusions of experience which must cover many fields, so diversified that no single specialist can claim to be able alone to appraise the exact impact on policy of his findings. Hence the need for occasional interchanges of views on a worldwide scale from the angle of separate disciplines and a variety of local conditions.

This sort of exchange of ideas, however, can have little practical value unless it is orientated directly towards a solution of specific problems. The substance of the earlier part of this paper is that we are at present witnessing a "revolution" in the world's development, and we have before us one big forestry problem, namely to decide how much land should be permanently dedicated to forests, using the term in its broadest sense, and knowing that a prerequisite to the answer is that the land should be managed so as to furnish benefits, services and products to the maximum as may best suit the needs of each country. Also that the productivity of the forest should be used to capacity by continually developing improved methods of utilization and efficient forest industries.

Program of the Fourth World Forestry Congress

Even if the organizers of the Fourth World Forestry Congress have assembled an agenda along what appear to be, and in fact are, classical lines, it should be remembered that the idea is to discuss each topic from a particular standpoint, so as to show as far as possible the bearing of any one problem on the general theme of the Congress, namely, determining the area to be reserved under vegetal cover.

We repeat that we are using the term "forest" in its broadest sense to include, in addition to areas regarded by all as forest lands, related lands where trees may be sparse or altogether absent, or the stands of relatively poor quality or even scarce and irregular, but which can be used extensively for grazing by livestock or wild animals, and sometimes for various types of shifting cultivation. Such lands complement the fully wooded areas, and so affect their treatment, in that they afford protection against abnormal erosion and, especially where they constitute watershed areas, act as a regulating factor for water supplies. In some cases, all or part of such areas are legally incorporated into the public forest lands; in other instances, the forest boundaries (where these have actually been fixed, which is usually the exception) deliberately exclude poor or sparsely stocked areas. In either case, because of their interdependence with the true forest, the way in which they are treated is very important to foresters.

We must also take into account as "forest" those plantations which are commonly called "plantations outside the forest" and which also have a useful role to play in soil and water conservation and erosion control, as well in producing supplies of wood and sometimes fruit or fodder.

Protective functions of the forest: This topic has been included at the beginning of the program of the Congress and is to be treated from the point of view of the policy-maker having to assess the problems raised by the application of the national forest policy and the allocation of forest land in various parts of the country.

The importance of the protective functions of the forest has been explicitly recognized comparatively recently, although scientific research has been under way for over 100 years and is still being actively pursued. At the same time tremendous progress has been made in techniques of soil conservation, restoring soil fertility, and regulating streamflow by what we may call artificial protective methods, to differentiate them from those based on efficient use of natural vegetation. But the application of such artificial methods is limited by either physical or economic factors. What are these limitations? What exact function must the forest play in a national program of reclamation or conservation of lands bearing or suited to bearing forests; in maintaining and improving the productivity of all lands; and in providing adequate water supplies for industry, cities and rural communities? These are questions to which the Congress discussions on forest influences may perhaps be able to give specific answers.

Productive functions of the forest: A second point in the program relates to the productive functions of the forest seen from the same viewpoint. In the light of changing world conditions, how should one determine what lands should be kept under forest to supply a country's needs for forest products? Then secondly, how should such lands best be managed?

The first is certainly a difficult question to answer. Of course a simple classification of lands according to their forest-bearing capabilities may in itself prescribe the limits, in that it is found that there just is not enough suitable land to fill all needs. However, usually one must go further and endeavor to predict the long-term timber and forest product needs of the country which is a hazardous, even though necessary, occupation.

The only practical course is to be bold. Although we can only narrowly predict future needs, we can deduce likely trends and be prepared for eventualities. The general trends that will sooner or later affect all countries are industrial expansion; a parallel increase of total wood requirements; a reduction in demand for fuelwood; and a relative increase in the needs of pulp and paper industries.

Forest products utilization: Forestry is not merely a way of harvesting crops; it is an enterprise supplying raw materials to a wide range of primary and secondary industries that are an integral part of a country's economy. Therefore, the question arises how important should it be in the national economy.

It would be too easy to reply that this entirely depends on how much forest actually exists. But there are heavily forested countries where forest industries make little or no contribution to the economy; others where the recognized need to develop certain industries has led to the establishment of new plantations where forest was formerly non-existent. This, then, is not the right answer.

In order to reach a sound decision, many factors must be taken into account and these are set out in a later paper. But the Congress is urged to examine most carefully under this point, the prospects for profitable forestry opened by the latest advances in logging and conversion techniques, assuring a better integration of wood-based industries in the general economy of a country and offering prospects for great developments.

Tropical forestry: The last item on the program of the Congress relates to tropical forestry. The policy principles applicable to tropical forests are no different from those applicable to other kinds of forest. But the methods and techniques for fully applying these principles have not yet properly been worked out, except perhaps in exceptional cases of unmixed growing stocks. Technical problems of utilizing tropical forests arise, we know, mainly from their mixed character. There are many other problems - in inventorying, silviculture, management and exploitation - that must influence policy consideration of how best to promote the industrial and agricultural development of countries having tropical forests, and how to raise living standards. The Congress will be expected to indicate how best tropical forestry can serve economic development.

The goal before the Congress

The Congress has been set an ambitious goal - to decide the extent to which "forests" should contribute to the expanding economies of individual countries and of the world, in the light of progress made to date in knowledge of forest resources, in silviculture and management, in logging and utilization.

It would, of course, be ridiculous to expect the Congress to produce definite answers to all the problems which have been touched on in this paper; the Congress is only one phase of a continuous international effort to formulate reasonable forest policies. It will be followed by other meetings of individual experts or of governmental representatives. Nevertheless, the ideas put forward on this occasion will doubtless receive critical and helpful examination and will stimulate the thinking of all those responsible for forest policies. What the Member Governments of FAO can expect from the Congress is essentially guidance on desirable international action - not policy decisions but competent and considered advice on which forest policies can be founded.

What the Director-General of FAO expects is guidance as to the best means of co-ordinating international action - in research, technical activities and policy - so that the Organization can keep pace with the "revolution" in world conditions to which we alluded at the outset, and "forests" can suitably contribute to an expanding economy and the whole progress of mankind.


· FAO's regional Forestry Commissions are expected to meet as follows in 1955: the third session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission at Tokyo in April, the fifth session of the Latin American Forestry Commission probably in Venezuela in May or June, the first session of the Near East Forestry Commission early in the year, and the ninth session of the European Forestry Commission at Rome in October.

· The eighth session of the full Conference of FAO, the governing body of the Organization, is set for Rome in November 1955. The twelfth congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations is scheduled for 1956 in the United Kingdom.

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