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The State of the World's Forests reports every two years on the status of forests, recent major policy and institutional developments and key issues concerning the forest sector. This is the fifth edition of the publication, the purpose of which is to provide current and reliable information to policy-makers, foresters and other natural resource managers, academics, forest industry and civil society.

In line with the extensive preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the last two years saw rich and stimulating discussions unfold in the international arena. The recent global economic downturn has contributed its own set of dynamics, and the forest and other sectors are struggling to absorb the impacts.

Choosing the topics for this edition of the State of the World's Forests from among the many options was a difficult task. In the spirit of collaboration, we took a slightly different approach from in the past and asked external authors to contribute whole chapters on major issues. The result is contributions from key intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and from individuals contributing in their personal capacity, in addition to pieces researched and written by FAO staff. Such a mix is entirely consistent with the theme of the State of the World's Forests 2003 “partnerships in action” and reflects how the forest sector must operate in today's environment.

An effort has been made to cover many subjects that are especially relevant to discussions taking place in international fora today. Part I presents recent developments and areas of current attention in forest resources; the management, conservation and sustainable development of forests; the institutional framework; and the international forest policy dialogue. Part II contains five chapters, each addressing a particular subject in more detail. The first examines the links between forests and poverty alleviation, a topic now being widely discussed in response to renewed interest in exploring the full potential of forests to bring about positive change. The second chapter notes the importance of forests in managing freshwater resources, the scarcity of which is becoming an urgent issue, as recognized by the United Nations designation of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater. How the sustainable use of forests contributes to the conservation of biological diversity is dealt with in the third chapter as a supplement to ongoing and, at times, controversial deliberations. The fourth chapter examines issues related to imbalances in science and technology capacity between developing and developed countries and among different segments of the forest sector. The plight of Africa is given special attention in the last chapter, which describes trends in fiscal policies in forestry. The devastating impact of HIV/AIDS is also highlighted, as are recently published findings of the FAO Forestry Outlook Study for Africa.

Trying to strike a balance between including a sufficient number of key topics and doing them justice within the constraints dictated by length meant that coverage of some topics had to be general rather than exhaustive. In this regard, we would like to think that they provide grist for the mill for future editions of the State of the World's Forests.

The FAO Forestry Department is pleased to release the State of the World's Forests 2003 and hopes that readers will find it informative and thought provoking. Comments are most welcome, as are suggestions for the next edition.

M. Hosny El-Lakany
Assistant Director-General
FAO Forestry Department

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