THERE is a story that it was because of what he saw when flying over once rich areas of the Middle East, on his return from the Yalta Conference in 1945, that President Roosevelt insisted on forestry being included in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Of the famous forests of Lebanon which once extended over five hundred thousand hectares, only four small groves remain. In 1402 the conqueror Tamerlaine hid his elephants in deep forests in the vicinity of Ankara; today as far as the eye can see not a single natural woodland tree is standing.
A host of unfavorable effects has followed indiscriminate forest destruction, and it has been a primary factor in bringing misery and starvation upon many of the oldest and most thickly settled centers of population.
In the more mountainous sections of this old region, ancient civilizations have profoundly modified the vegetative cover, and unrestricted grazing on land suitable only for forest growths has resulted in widespread damage to the soil itself. Nomadic graziers, driven from the valley grasslands by the influx of farming, have been forced to seek the sparse pasturage of mountain ranges where the forests had already been depleted by centuries of exploitation. Tree reproduction becomes impossible, the light sod is cut to pieces by the hoofs of animals and the soil deprived of all protective cover, falls easy victim to the erosive forces of wind and rain. Within a few decades regions once well forested are transformed into barren, dustswept wastes.
To halt this process and reverse the trend is indeed a formidable task but one which governments and a devoted band of enthusiasts are prepared to face.
FAO now has technical assistance missions working in twelve countries of the Middle East in various phases of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, nutrition, and economics. What needs to be done and how to do it is mostly known. The question is to get it done on a scale commensurate with the need.
Can governments devote funds to long-term forestry ventures when there are immediate wars to be fought against the desert locust? The answer appears to be, "Yes". Slowly amongst peoples there arises an awareness of the need to protect and restore forests, and the present task is to turn this awareness into a campaign.
Cover Photograph: " I will make thee a wilderness... I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons. " This quotation from the Book of Jeremiah is tragically apt to the bas-relief, of which a photograph is on our cover, from Ancient Egypt. Found on the tomb of the Pharoah Akhouthtep of the 5th dynasty, it shows unmistakeably how old is the problem of goats as enemies of afforestation in the Middle East... for thousand of years, in fact, they have been among the forester's greatest enemies, This bas-relief is now in the Louvre Museum, Paris.