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Editorial: Forestry in countries with economies in transition

Over the past few years many former centrally planned countries have engaged in sweeping economic reforms and in a redistribution of responsibilities among the various agents of national development. The macroeconomic reform from the state-dominated systems of the past towards a market orientation is a profound change which has many social, cultural, political and economic implications.

In all cases, democratization and improved performance of the economy have been the driving aims of the reform process. However, in the short term, the transition and particularly the speed with which it is being implemented are creating grave difficulties for the governments and people of the countries involved. General economic recession is a common denominator, while the liberalization of prices is constraining domestic industries and consumers alike.

The forestry and forest industries sectors have been borne on the tide of this wider reform. This issue of Unasylva offers an analysis of experiences with regard to forestry in transitional economies, with the aim of facilitating an understanding of the important issues involved in the process.

K. Prins and A. Korotkov of the Joint ECE/FAO Agriculture and Timber Division in Geneva present an overview of the transition process as it is affecting forestry in Central and Eastern Europe. Articles by national experts focus more closely on the challenges of transition in Hungary (P. Csóka), the Russian Federation (D. Lipman) and Poland (W. Strykowski). A short article by T. Marghescu stresses the need to minimize the risks of short-term over exploitation of forest resources (to obtain capital) during the transition process.

P. Barresi considers the role of legislative reform in establishing new property and economic relationships in the forestry sector focusing on the very different approaches adopted by Poland and Albania. C. Upton demonstrates how a careful economic appraisal of non-wood products and services can be a useful tool in achieving the appropriate balance between environmental and economic demands on forest resources, drawing on examples from Slovakia and Poland.

The picture that emerges from these articles focusing on Central and Eastern Europe is one of countries which have an advanced technical capacity in forest management but which are struggling to adapt to changing situations and demands, including modified ownership and utilization patterns, and the need for multipurpose management embracing environmental, social and economic concerns. This is paralleled by the rapid privatization and modernization of outdated, inefficient forest industries with the aim of enabling them to compete in a market - driven arena. Key issues include the privatization of a portion of forest resources, largely as a result of the restitution of land to former owners; the privatization of forestry activities in public forests; the need to provide extension and incentives to new, generally small-scale, private owners; the privatization and modernization of forest industries; the adaptation of policies, legislation and government responsibilities to new goals; the need for reliable and up-to-date information on forest resources as well as on production, trade and prices of forest products; the need to balance environmental protection and economic utilization; the need to ensure that forestry continues to provide development opportunities for the rural poor; the generation of domestic and international investment in forestry; and the need for international cooperation, particularly among the transitional countries themselves.

Economic and structural adjustment is affecting forestry in other areas of the globe as well, and Unasylva also considers situations in Africa, Latin America and Asia. A. Cuco examines developments in the forestry sector in Mozambique since the advent of structural adjustment in 1987, against the background of a 16-year civil conflict. L.J. Castaños analyses the relationship between the January 1994 indigenous uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and national structural adjustment and forestry reform. Particular attention is paid to the changes in federal policy regarding agriculture, landownership and the 1989 ban on logging. Finally, a synthesis is presented of the results of an FAO workshop, held in Fuzhou, China, in March 1994, to discuss the reform of Asian forestry towards a market orientation.

One message that emerges clearly from this issue of Unasylva is the value of exchanges of experiences and expertise among the countries in transition, rather than the "importation" of "solutions" from the so-called industrial countries. Countries with well-established market economies and international organizations do have a role to play, but as facilitators or coordinators of this exchange process. On the other hand, while there are many common challenges facing forestry in countries in economic transition, there are great differences as well; each country's unique social, cultural and historical characteristics will lead towards different approaches for reorienting forestry. In all cases, caution is essential: it will be necessary to proceed gradually (notwithstanding the often enormous pressures to the contrary) and to assess the impacts, effectiveness and sustainability of reforms. Finally, it must be stressed that forestry reform is influenced by broader policies concerning agriculture and land tenure, investment and fiscal regimes, etc., and therefore cannot be considered in isolation from other sectors of the national economy or from the international economic and environmental situation.

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