American mahogany

Conservation and utilization of genetic resources of mahogany species in Central and South America

The two most important Meliaceae genera in the neotropics are Swietenia and Cedrela. From the last century up to the present time the Mahoganies, as they are commonly known, have been of fundamental importance for the development of the forest industry in Latin America, in the generation of revenue, and in the development of rural communities. Species of these genera cover the Neotropical territory from the north of Mexico to Brazil and Argentina, passing through Central America and the Caribbean Islands. They are also important in plantation programmes outside of their natural range, notably in Asia and the Pacific.



Deforestation caused by changes in land use in many countries in Central/South America and the Caribbean has lead to the loss of some populations of mahoganies in the Neotropics. Deforestation has also lead to fragmentation of previously continuous populations and, in combination with dysgenic selection (the harvesting of the best individuals), the genetic constitution of many natural populations is likely to have been negatively affected.

A Satellite Event organized by FAO's Inter-Departmental Working Group on Biological Diversity on the occasion of the Ninth Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources in October 2002 presented a paper on mahogany in Mexico (paper published in Biodiversity and the ecosystem approach in agriculture, forestry and fisheries).

Information on on-going efforts to establish a network on the genetic resources of mahogany in the Neotropics

Based on concern about the genetic integrity of the mahoganies the Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources has over the years flagged the urgent need for national, regional and international action to promote and further the conservation and sustainable use of mahogany species. These calls for action are in line with similar recommendations passed by a number of national and international institutes and fora, notably by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As a follow-up to a recommendation of the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources, the FAO Forestry Department recently published the report Genetic resources of Swietenia and Cedrela in the Neotropics - Proposal for coordinated action. The report, written as a synthesis paper by Mr. F. Patino of Mexico and based on contractual work for FAO by four experts from Central and South America, describes the ecology, silviculture, management, utilization and conservation of mahogany species in the region. The report also list on-going activities and gaps in current knowledge and activities, and propose programmes of collaborative activities in the region. Asummary of the reportis included in the annual newsbulletin Forest Genetic Resources No 25. The full report, in Spanish and English, is available from the Forest Resources Division of FAO.

The International Symposium on Genetic Resources, Ecology and Management of Big-leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), was organized in October 1996 in Puerto Rico by the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (USDA Forest Service), in technical collaboration with FAO. The symposium agreed upon and highlighted a number of priority issues in need of attention, and welcomed a proposal by FAO to support networking activities among institutes working on the conservation and management of genetic resources of neotropical mahogany species. The general aim of the proposed forest genetic resources network was to support the programmes of national institutes already active in this field in countries which expressed a wish to participate, and to help strengthen links and collaboration between them, thus ensuring complementarity of action. Country-driven action within the framework of the network would be carried out in a manner complementary to already on-going or planned work in this and related fields coordinated by other agencies or institutions.

A draft project proposal for networking activities in genetic resources of mahogany species was subsequently elaborated by FAO consultants from the region. The proposal was submitted by FAO in 1997 and 1998 for comments and suggestions to institutes in potentially interested countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and in other tropical regions. The proposal was also made available to the CITES Secretariat, and has been preliminarily discussed with participants in recent CITES-related meetings, with a view to streamlining possible future forest genetic resources activities with trade-related action being proposed within the framework of CITES.

The draft proposal was discussed in a side meeting on genetic resources of mahoganies, organized in connection with the 20th Session of the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission in La Havana, Cuba, in September 1998. The side meeting was attended by some thirty participants representing thirteen countries and three regional or international organizations. While countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty cautioned against potential overlap with planned activities within the framework of CITES, others showed enthusiasm for the proposal, which they confirmed should -as originally proposed- focus on scientific and technical activities related to the conservation, enhancement and sustainable utilization of mahogany genetic resources, and include a range of species of Meliaceae occurring in the region. The participants agreed to further discuss the draft proposal in their respective countries and, following such discussions and careful in-country analysis, provide additional comments to FAO for incorporation into the proposal.

Based on feed-back from countries and on availability of funding, consideration will be given to the organization of a regional workshop to finalize the proposals and to initiate corresponding activities.

last updated:  Monday, January 10, 2011