10 March 2003, Rome-- "Despite high rates of deforestation, progress in implementing sustainable forest management around the world has been steady and encouraging. However, improvements are needed to bring about further environmental, economic, social and cultural benefits," according to the State of the World's Forests 2003 (SOFO) presented today by FAO.

Sustainable forest management refers to meeting present needs for forest goods and services, while ensuring their continued availability in the long term. The concept combines the production of wood and non-wood forest products with the conservation of soil, water and biological diversity, while the socio-economic, cultural and spiritual values of forests are maintained or enhanced.

To strengthen sustainable forest management, SOFO recommends stronger integrated policies and better linkages across sectors, such as agriculture, transportation and trade. It particularly recommends innovative partnerships among governments, organizations, the private sector and civil society.

Forests and climate change

SOFO underscores the major roles of forests in the context of climate change:
  • as a source of carbon dioxide (CO2) when they are destroyed or degraded;
  • as a sensitive indicator of a changing climate;
  • as a source of biofuels for the substitution of fossil fuels;
  • and as a CO2 sink when they are managed sustainably.

SOFO also notes the many issues that need to be resolved when negotiations for the next commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol begin in 2005.

Poverty alleviation

"Forests can help to reduce food insecurity, alleviate poverty, improve the sustainability of agricultural production and enhance the environment in which many impoverished rural people live," according to a chapter of SOFO on forests and poverty alleviation.

Evidence shows that rural people are aware of the opportunities to incorporate trees and forests into their livelihoods and farming systems, justifying stronger policies that will aim at:
  • increasing support for agroforestry with a focus on technologies that promote income generation and sustainable supplies of food, fibre, fodder and fuel;
  • strengthening local participation in decision-making and sharing of the benefits;
  • strengthening forest rights of the poor and the means to claim them;
  • offering credit facilities and markets access to poor farmers;
  • expanding opportunities for off-farm employment, for example in forest based enterprises.
Other chapters of SOFO analyze the important role of forests in freshwater resources, the contribution of forests to the conservation of biological diversity, and the state of science and technology in the forest sector, including the widening gap between advanced and least developed countries.
A final chapter analyzes recent fiscal policies trends in the forest sector in Africa and ways to improve them.

Pierre Antonios
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53473