The global results of the FAO and FAO/ECE Forest Resources Assessment 1990 (FRA90) have been produced from a synthesis of assessments of the developed and developing countries which use different approaches and classification systems. Core definitions are not fully identical. For these reasons the results of the assessment are not fully compatible between the developing and the developed countries. In recognition of these shortcomings there is need to serve compatibility and close coordination between the assessments of the developing and developed countries. Global concern regarding biological diversity, global climate change and degradation of land and
vegetation have raised a major interest in quantified data on these issues. The 1990 Forest Resources Assessment has produced only the beginnings of an answer to this challenge. Several expert meetings have recommended that more emphasis be given to assessment of environmental parameters. These recommendations have been endorsed by the Committee on Forestry.
A review of FAO*s global assessments over the last 50 years shows that they have been carried out on ‘occasions* separated by five to ten-year intervals. One of the major disadvantages of these occasional assessments is the loss of institutional memory, capacities and knowledge base between two successive exercises. In particular following UNCED, the fundamental importance of continuous forest resources assessment is now recognized (for instance by the Committee on forestry at its 1993 session) FAO intends to integrate increasingly this activity within its Regular Programme.
The availability and reliability of data from the developing countries will remain a source of major concern for future FAO global assessments. The state and change information on forest cover areaand biomass could probably be made available by developing countries for regional or global purposes within the next ten or twenty years only if a concerted effort is made to enhance their capacity in forest inventory and monitoring.
For developed countries it has in most cases been possible to compile data with a detail and accuracy which exceeds that for developing countries. Data on growing stock, woody biomass, growth and harvest have been provided by the countries. Quality and quantity of data vary considerably, however, between the countries, and there are many gaps in the information supplied. Regional totals cannot be made for all variables. In a number of cases Secretariat estimates had to be made to achieve such totals. Results regarding changes in forest area are incomplete and not conclusive. Assessment of environmental parameters is advanced with regard to biomass but is only beginning for others aspects. Moreover, core definitions have been interpreted and applied quite differently in different countries due to differences in basic concepts and schools.
In view of the background described above, the following guidelines for action appear particularly important:
Country capacity building: The need for strengthening forest resources assessment activities at national and global levels has been well recognized both by governments and intergovernmental fora. The 11th Session of the Committee on Forestry held in March 1993, for example, recognised the “fundamental importance of the continuous forest resources assessment” and of “country capacity building”, to provide the information for the formulation, implementation and review of the effects of plans and strategies for conservation and development of forest resources at national and international levels. For the assessment programme concerning developing countries a shift in emphasis towards the country capacity building component has been agreed. FAO could and should assist countries in preparing a long term vision of forest resources assessment as an integral part of National Forestry Action Programmes. This framework will be most useful for channelling future technical assistance and should ensure that the institutional capacity in the countries grows with time to meet future challenges in an effective manner and, in particular, generates self-reliance. Country capacity building seems the most critical issue, obviously for the countries themselves, but also for forest resources assessment. What has been said applies not only to developing countries but also to some of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe with economics in transition Therefore, it deserves the highest priority in the international cooperation in the field of forest resources assessment.
Global coordination: A better harmonization of definitions and classifications is essential. FAO should facilitate the formulation of a common framework for assessments in the developing and developed countries. An intergovernmental panel of experts in forest resource assessment and monitoring should be established to ensure that the core information is entirely comparable worldwide and that the methods of work are agreed in advance for global assessments.
Sampling approach in developed countries: In view of the uneven quality and quantity of data and the many gaps in the information supplied in the developed countries, the possibility of a common remote sensing based sampling approach similar to that successfully used in the developing countries, should be considered. Furthermore, it should be explored whether a model approach is feasible, similar to that used in the developing countries, in order to harmonize and bring to common reference years the data provided by the developed countries.
Provision of spatial data in the assessment of developed countries: The experience from the tropical forest resources assessment shows that geo-referenced data on forest cover by main type, ecological zones and population density are very useful in the study of environmental functions of forests. The need for a global coverage of such information has been expressed in a number of international meetings and conferences.
Environmental parameters: On the issues of biodiversity, biomass and land/vegetation degradation, concepts and assessment methods need to be refined. Quantitative assessment of the relevant parameters needs to be introduced in operational forest inventory work.
Integration with other databases in forestry and related sectors: To be useful, forest resource information at country, regional and global levels, must be integrated with related information in the forestry sector such as production of wood and non-wood forest products, and information outside the forestry sector such as rural and urban population, grazing intensity, energy demands, etc. Such integration can be developed most effectively within FAO.
Continuity: Collection of forest resource information should go on a continuing basis. Suitable forms should be found for dissemination at short intervals of updated information.
The institutional basis for continuous forest resource assessment programmes should be created or strengthened in host countries and in FAO at the global level.