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The FAO programme on environmentally sound forest harvesting operations

Harvesting and sustainable development
The new dimension of harvesting
Programmes and projects of the forest harvesting, trade and marketing branch

Rudolf Heinrich
Chief, Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch
Forest Products Division
Forestry Department, FAO, Rome, Italy


World forestry is challenged by a number of issues such as the loss of the earth's biodiversity, forest decline because of air pollution and transformation of old growth forests in the temperate region, decrease of forest land due to conversion to other land uses in tropical countries, forest land degradation and tree stand impoverishment as well as generation of forest waste caused by inappropriate and unsustainable forest harvesting practices. Recently issues such as labelling of wood products, suggestions for trade restrictions and even boycotts of tropical timber from non-sustainably managed forests have emerged as further causes of concern in forest and wood products development.

Although great advances have been made during the last two decades in developing and introducing highly mechanised and specialised machinery in forest operations, which permit environmentally sound, economically profitable and socially acceptable forest uses to support sustainable forest development, there still is a great need to ensure the introduction and application of appropriate policies and practical codes of environmentally friendly harvesting practices with the aim to advance sustainability of both timber and non-timber forest products.

Worldwide in 1991, some 3.4 billion m3 of roundwood (FAO 1993) have been removed from the world's forests of which a little bit less than half has been used for industrial purposes and the other half as fuelwood. The presently existing forest resources worldwide are estimated to amount to about 4,100 million ha. With an ever increasing rate of deforestation for other land uses (conversion to agricultural land, infrastructure, and urbanisation; presently the rate of forest decrease in the tropics alone amounts to some 15.4 million ha annually), it is evident that a concerted effort is needed to motivate policy makers, managers, technicians and forest operators to encourage forest development programmes that harmonise interests in conserving forests as well as to wisely use the potential of the forest while maintaining its full regeneration capacity.

Harvesting and sustainable development

At the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, forestry received major attention under Agenda 21, Chapter 11 entitled "Combating Deforestation". With respect to forest use, particular reference was made to the need to promote efficient utilisation and assessment to recover the full valuation of goods and services provided by forest lands and woodlands (UNCED 1992). As a matter of fact in many forest operations, we can recognize that the full potential of forests and forest lands is far from being realised as a major source for development.

A prerequisite for sustainable forest utilisation is comprehensive pre-harvest planning, appropriate monitoring and execution of operations as well post-harvest evaluations, increasing the production of goods and services, particularly in broadening diversity of yield of forest use, covering timber and non-timber forest products. This should help to generate more income and employment, particularly enhancing life of rural populations, without compromising the regenerative capacity of the forests and their continued contribution to human welfare, satisfying the aspirations of goods and services for future generations.

There are numerous definitions of sustainability. In 1904, G.L. Hartig, Head of the Prussian Forest Administration in Berlin, defined sustainability as follows:

"Every wise forest director has to have evaluated the forest stands to utilise them to the greatest possible extent, but still in a way that future generations will have at least as much benefit as the living generation."

On the subject of sustainable development, in 1988 the FAO Council adopted the following definition:

"The management and conservation of the natural resource base and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Such sustainable development conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources and is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable."

Perhaps the most widely quoted definition of sustainable development is that of the Brundtland Commission (WCED 1987): "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".

In view of the dwindling resources due to forest decline in the temperate zone, conversion to other land uses and degradation in the tropical areas, it is essential that forest harvesting practices are carried out in a manner to guarantee the sustainability of the forest resource base.

It is well recognised that the complexity and diversity of the vegetative cover as well as the fauna of the various forests require well planned and controlled forest operations and interventions to make full use of the potential of wood and non-wood forest products, compatible with environmental conservation. In some instances, however, the optimal use of all forest products may not be feasible due to factors, which include amongst others environment, accessibility, availability of harvesting technology, resources, laws and regulations.

The new dimension of harvesting

FAO's perception of forest harvesting in relation to socio-economic development has gone through a substantial evolution. In forestry, a concept which needs to be more frequently introduced is the use of a wider range of forest products based on sustainable resource management. In addition to timber, a multitude of non-wood products are available from the forests which can be most beneficial in terms of employment and income generation, particularly for the local population. In many instances, harvesting therefore is no longer synonymous with logging as it deals with a wide array of non-wood outputs (de la Cruz 1989). A partial list of such products may include plants for ornamental and medicinal use, honey, resins, tannin, fruits, mushrooms, nuts, wildlife for food and hunting trophies. Harvesting therefore may be defined as the procurement of raw materials from the forests. When recognizing this new approach, harvesting as an independent technical discipline has to be seen as an integrating function forming a strong link between the resources, forest-based enterprises and markets. FAO, besides its traditional work in wood harvesting, has recently developed an action programme on harvesting of non-wood forest products and has undertaken case studies on small-scale harvesting with strong people's participation, published as FAO Forestry Paper No. 87 (de la Cruz 1989), as well as a study on the collection, processing and marketing of edible mushrooms from forest plantations in Chile (Donoso and Kilkki 1993). By 1990 the value of these mushrooms had reached about US$ 3 million annually.

Programmes and projects of the forest harvesting, trade and marketing branch

In responding to the urgent needs to enhance environmentally sound and sustainable forest harvesting practices worldwide and supporting the transfer of appropriate technology, FAO has created a network of communication among scientists and practitioners from industrialised and developing countries to share information and experience on new developments in forest engineering, harvesting and transport by publishing a twice annually distributed newsletter, which is called the FAO Forest Harvesting Bulletin.

The FAO Forest Harvesting Bulletin

The aim of the FAO Forest Harvesting Bulletin is to promote environmentally sound forest practices worldwide reporting on FAO's programmes and activities in this field of specialisation, highlighting emerging issues and conflicts and reporting on new advances made to reduce the environmental impact of forest harvesting on forest stands, soil and terrain, improving timber utilisation, generating employment and income, preventing forest workers accidents and limiting health risks in forest operations.

The 12-page, four-colour newsletter has now a worldwide distribution of nearly 4000 copies per issue. The membership list of this network incorporates forest engineering specialists, forest planning and policy personnel, forest operations managers, technicians and forest workers as well as national and international civil servants interested in forestry matters and representatives of grass roots level movements.

Presently the FAO Forest Harvesting Bulletin is sent to institutions such as government forest administrations, forest universities, technical schools, training centres, research institutes, forestry libraries, forest and forest industries enterprises, forest operation contractors, non-governmental organisations, FAO/UNDP Regional and Country Representations as well as to the Regional Development Banks and the World Bank.

The suggestion to establish a worldwide network in the field of forest engineering, harvesting and transport emanated from recommendations made at the expert consultation on the FAO Action Programme on Forest Harvesting Training held from 23-27 April 1990 in Kotka, Finland. The FAO Forest Harvesting Bulletin essentially contains an editorial, featuring forest harvesting issues viewed in a general context in relation to economics, society and environment, reports on the application of new technologies in forest road planning, construction, harvesting and transport, activities undertaken by national or international organisations in particular by ILO, UNIDO, ISO, ITTO, UNEP, etc., as well as meetings related to engineering and harvesting.

Programme on Environmentally Sound Forest Harvesting

The overall purpose of this programme is to contribute to sustainable development by devising, testing, and helping to implement improved technologies for timber harvesting in tropical forests. Timber harvesting is considered here to comprise the aggregation of all operations relating to the felling of trees and the extraction of their stems or other usable parts from the forest for subsequent processing into industrial products. The term harvesting technology refers to the application of scientific and engineering principles, in combination with education and training, to improve the application of labour, equipment, and operating methods in the harvesting of industrial timber.

Activities being developed under this programme stem directly from critically needed tasks as identified in the Rio Declaration and in Chapter 11 of Agenda 21. For instance. Principle 4 of the Rio Declaration notes that "In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it." Principle 11 says in part that "States shall enact effective environmental legislation" and Principle 17 indicates that "Environmental impact assessment, as a national instrument, shall be undertaken for proposed activities that are likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and are subject to a decision of a competent national authority." Similarly, Chapter 11 of Agenda 21 states that "unsustainable commercial logging" must be halted, that it is essential to develop "environmentally sound methods and practices of forest harvesting which are ecologically sound and economically viable," and that forestry must contribute to both economic development and environmental protection by endeavoring to develop "efficient conversion technology and improved sustainable utilization of harvesting and process residues".

The major activities for the Programme on Environmentally Sound Harvesting Technologies to Sustain Tropical Forests, as currently being planned by the FAO Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch under the Forest Products Division, are as follows. To the extent possible these activities are being initiated under FAO's Regular Programme but external funding will be needed for their full implementation.

(i) To develop comprehensive guidelines for the application of harvesting personnel, equipment, and techniques in forest operations. These guidelines will form a model "code of practice" that could be adopted by governments to reduce environmental impacts associated with industrial timber harvesting operations.

(ii) To conduct case studies comparing conventional and improved harvesting technologies in each of the three principal regions of the tropics. These case studies will be used to demonstrate improved practices, to measure the benefits and costs of such operations, and to foster the transfer of environmentally sound technology to developing countries.

(iii) To reduce waste associated with forest operations by developing technologies to improve the utilization of forest residues.

(iv) To develop methodologies for considering interactions between wood and non-wood forest products in order to reduce the impact of timber harvesting on the growth, collection, and harvesting of non-wood forest products.

(v) To develop and test procedures for making comprehensive environmental impact assessments of proposed harvesting operations in tropical forests.

(vi) To conduct training sessions and expert consultations with the objective of contributing to the application of improved harvesting technologies by government agencies and by private companies and contractors in developing countries.

Forest Harvesting Training, Extension and Education Programme

In a survey of training needs carried out by FAO with the support of the Forestry Training Programme of Finland in 29 countries, it became evident that due to temporary nature of forest operations as a seasonal work, a high turn over of forestry personnel has been recognised.

This certainly will have a great impact on the needs of training facilities, types and curricula of training, extension and educational programmes. In general, it was observed that the subject area forest engineering, harvesting and transport had a time share of 10-15 percent of the total curriculum at Forestry Universities.

At the technical level generally reduced versions of the university curricula were taught. Training at the vocational level was the most needed and a considerable shortage of training facilities and appropriate training material has been noticed.

The Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch has therefore dedicated a considerable effort, also with the assistance of various bilateral donor agencies to carry out various training courses, workshops, seminars and expert consultations on a broad range of topics covering planning and management of forest operations, health and safety issues in forestry work, the transfer and use of appropriate harvesting technology, mountain logging, forest road planning and construction, forest operations in the tropics, as well as forest harvesting and environment.

A recent initiative under this programme is the Seminar on Economics and Management of Forest Operations for Countries in Transition to Market Economies, which was held in Ort/Gmunden, Austria from 27 June to 2 July 1994.

The objectives of the seminar were to provide participants with some basic information on the principles of economically efficient and environmentally sound forest harvesting and engineering operations in the context of a market oriented economic system.

Special efforts will be devoted to highlight legal, institutional, organisational and administrative measures through government services and support programmes of the Boards of Agriculture and Forestry to enhance the development of private forest enterprises based on the Austrian experience.

Participants will have an opportunity to share experience and information in presenting their country reports highlighting the success, problems and difficulties encountered in transforming centrally planned enterprises into market oriented enterprises. In this context, information will be provided on the countries forestry situation, legislation, types and sizes of forestry enterprises, level and choice of technology, production systems, employment and income, environmental issues, forest extension, training, education and research.

Equipment Information Data Bases

The FAO Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch has established a computerised data base on forest engineering, harvesting and transport machinery, equipment and tools of main manufacturing companies and suppliers throughout the whole world. Presently the system contains information on more than 240 companies worldwide.

The information available, comprises a wide range of equipment, incorporating basic, intermediate and most advanced mechanised harvesting technology and systems. The aim of the data base is to provide more efficiently technical services in assisting governmental, non governmental and private forest enterprises to select appropriate equipment and machinery in relation to their socio-economic needs and forestry conditions.

Based on the experience in various field projects, data have been also collected on productivity and costs of various types and systems in forest harvesting. As a result of this data base, rapid evaluations on productivity and costs in forest harvesting can be undertaken.

The establishment of these data bases has greatly increased the efficiency and capacity of technical backstopping in FAO member countries in this field of competence.

Harvesting of Non-Wood Forest Products

In countries as diverse as Sweden and Japan it has been estimated that the economic value of non-wood forest products amounts to between 20 and 25% of the value of wood products. Non-wood forest products are even more important to the economies of many developing countries; a few well-known examples include Brazil nuts, rubber, palm hearts, mushrooms, honey and beeswax, rattan, and bamboo. These products, and many others which are not so well known but are often more important to local people, have the potential to enhance the value of standing forest and therefore reduce the likelihood of deforestation. Harvesting, transportation and storage techniques for non-wood forest products are often complicated because of short harvesting seasons in which timing and rapid delivery to markets can be critical. FAO is working with specialists in non-wood forest products to develop improved harvesting, processing and storage techniques in order to help maximize the contribution of these products to income and employment in rural communities.


The Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch has created a new series of special reports on Forest Harvesting Case Studies which deals with innovative systems and techniques to improve harvesting standards, productivity and costs and reduce the environmental impacts of forest operations. The aim of these studies is to thoroughly document environmentally sound and sustainable forest utilisation technology which could be of interest to many forest enterprises in a number of countries.

Two recently published studies under this series were dealing with reduction of wood waste and non-wood forest products, entitled:

Reduction of wood waste by small scale log production and conversion in tropical high forest in Papua New Guinea

Cosecha de Hongos en la VII Región de Chile

Further studies foreseen to be published will deal with:

Use of elephants in wood extraction in Sri Lanka

Low impact harvesting in buffer zones of protection forests in Uganda

Improved harvesting techniques in tropical forests in Brazil, Congo, Peru and the Philippines

For training purposes, a few practical oriented manuals have been prepared of which two were published under the FAO Training Series namely the Chainsaw Manual and the Design Manual on Basic Wood Harvesting Technology.

The aim of the design manual is to provide ideas for techniques and equipment that will improve productivity at little or no investment, encourage the use of local skills and materials, and so promote and encourage the involvement of the local population in forest utilisation. The equipment suggested in this manual is simple and inexpensive to make, reduces work loads and thus energy demands of human labour and can easily be made from locally available materials in modest blacksmith shops, in the maintenance facilities of local communities or at the site of the task at hand.

Two further training materials were prepared on cable logging and forest road planning and construction, subjects which require a very special training effort due to the complicate nature of the activities.

Many publications of the FAO Forestry Department's series, the FAO Forestry Papers, have had an exclusive major focus on forest harvesting and transport of more than 110 papers published in this series. Since its inception in 1977 fifteen papers have been devoted exclusively or largely to issues relating to forest harvesting and transport.

The series is aimed at scientists and educators, professional people working in forestry or related fields and high level decision makers, whose judgments may influence the future course of forest conservation and development.

Literature Cited

De la Cruz, Virgilio. 1989. Small-Scale Harvesting Operations of Wood and Non-Wood Forest Products Involving Rural People. FAO Forestry Paper 87. FAO, Rome.

FAO. 1993. Yearbook of Forest Products 1991. Rome.

Donoso J., and Kilkki, R. 1993. Cosecha de Hongos en la VII Región de Chile. FAO, Rome.

UNCED. 1992. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, final advanced version of Agenda 21, Chapter 11, Combating Deforestation.

WCED. 1987. Our Common Future. World Commission on Environment and Development, convened by the United Nations General Assembly, New York. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Author's Contact Information

Rudolf Heinrich
Chief, Forest Harvesting, Trade and Marketing Branch
Forest Products Division
Forestry Department
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy
Telephone: +39 6 5225-4727
Fax: +39 6 5225-5618
E-mail: [email protected]

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