Millions of people around the world depend on forests for medicine,
building materials, fuel, income -- and food. FAO estimates that
around 500 million people live in or near forests, and in some places,
forests are the primary source of food. But almost everywhere, forests
provide regular supplements to people's diets.
In many developing countries, forest foods represent a much-needed
safety net, helping people get by between harvest seasons, when
crops fail or during times of drought, famine or social strife.
In some areas, forests support livestock production by providing
fodder, and in others -- for example, coastal mangrove swamps --
they support local fisheries.
But beyond these direct contributions to food security, the environmental
services provided by forests play a critical role in ensuring sustainable
agricultural production: forests and woodlands help filter and maintain
water supplies, protect against soil erosion and land degradation,
moderate climate and slow global warming by removing carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere.
Forests are also rich deposits of biological diversity and provide
large numbers of poor people with fuel for cooking food and heating
their homes, while forest-based employment gives many others a source
of cash income.
"The survival of forests really constitutes a guarantee for
the survival of mankind," says El-Hadji Sene, Director of FAO's
Forestry Resources Division. "They provide so many different
products and services, serve so many important functions."
At the World Forestry Congress in Quebec City, Canada, 21-28 September,
FAO will be stressing these multiple linkages -- and the essential
role forests play in preserving other key resources, such as water
A milestone meeting
According to Sene, the meeting is an important step in what he describes
as the ongoing journey towards sustainable forest management. "The
Congress brings forest people from around the world together to
find ways to harness the products, goods and services that forests
provide, without harming forests -- in short, how to apply the idea
of sustainable development to forests," he says.
Since 1947, FAO has played a lead role in sponsoring and organizing
the event, convened every six years to bring diverse forest stakeholders
from around the world to the table to discuss a wide range of issues.
As many as 3 000 people are expected to attend this year's meeting.
Beyond its role as a conference sponsor, FAO also plays an active
part in the discussions and learning that happen during the event.
This year, experts from the Organization will be speaking on subjects
such as measuring forest resources, sustainable management practices,
climate change, deforestation, forest fire management, forest-based
poverty reduction and trade opportunities for non-wood products.
A shared journey
FAO's involvement in the World Forestry Congress complements its
involvement in other ongoing international discussions regarding
Based on FAO's track record in the forestry sector, in 1992 the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development asked the
Organization to play the lead role in coordinating international
action on combating deforestation. In this capacity, FAO has collaborated
with partners both inside and outside the UN system to make the
last ten years productive ones, including helping service and support
additional multilateral mechanisms for addressing global forestry
issues. These include the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, the
Intergovernmental Forum on Forests, the United Nations Forum on
Forests and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, which coordinates
inputs from international agencies and is chaired by FAO.
"We're also very engaged in the implementation of other mechanisms
and conventions that relate to forestry, especially the first Río
Conventions," Sene notes.
This emerging international framework for enhanced cooperation has
already resulted in tangible results, notes FAO in State of
the World's Forests 2003.
- More than 100 countries have revised national forest policies
and developed national forest programmes, taking into account the
need for wide participation by different stakeholders.
- 150 countries are involved in international efforts to establish
criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management.
- Areas under official forest management plans have increased to
88 percent in developed countries and around 6 percent in developing
- 10 percent of the world's forests now fall within protected forest
- The involvement of local communities in forest planning and management
Working for the future of forestry
Forests and forestry have been a part of FAO's mandate since the
creation of the Organization in 1945. Today, FAO's Forestry Department
continues to work on a wide range of issues important to the sector,
including community-based forestry and poverty alleviation, forest
degradation and deforestation, sustainable forest management, conservation
and biodiversity, management of forest fires and the relationship
between forests and climate change.
One important new area of work involves FAO's collaboration with
countries and regional associations from around the world to develop
a common set of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management.
"The idea," says Sene, "is that these indicators
can be the basis for best practices, the basic elements that guide
the practitioner towards sustainable forest management."
For more information on work being conducted by FAO's Forestry
Department and the messages FAO is taking to the World Forestry
Congress, browse the links to the right of this article.
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 53168