The above meeting was held at FAO Headquarters, Rome from 21 to 23 November 2001. All fifteen standing Members of the Panel and one invited Resource Person attended the meeting. Collaborators from the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF), and the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO), also attended the meeting..
The Panel examined work carried out in the field of forest genetic resources since its previous, Eleventh Session (Rome, September 1999), based on reports and reviews at national, regional and international levels45.
The Panel welcomed the recent approval by the 31st Session of the FAO Conference of the International Treaty on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; it called on Members to actively help encourage countries to ratify the Treaty soonest46.
The Panel noted the deliberations of the 7th Meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in November 2001, in which forest biological diversity had been among the main issues on the agenda. It stressed the need to ensure that the work programme of the CBD in forest biological diversity and forest genetic resources built upon action already underway in existing technical agencies with mandates in these fields; it noted that specialized agencies and concerned institutions were in a position to help implement CBD's programme, as applicable, and within the limits of their respective mandates.
The Panel noted the compliance with its earlier recommendations regarding activities and general focus of FAO's forest genetic resources work47. Efforts made over the past years by FAO to use scarce resources efficiently, share information and experience, maintain close collaboration with national and international agencies and actors and thus avoid duplication of efforts, were welcomed.
The Panel recognized FAO's international role and functions in supporting, advising and collaborating with national institutes in in situ and ex situ conservation, and in the enhancement and sustainable use of forest genetic resources.
The Panel welcomed FAO's inter-Departmental activities in biological diversity, biotechnology and biosafety, and discussed the place and role of new biotechnological tools which could have considerable potential, provided that due attention and adequate resources were allocated to conservation and conventional breeding programmes underpinning their application and safe use. In this regard, the Panel stressed the need to publicize in a balanced and factual manner both the potential positive and negative effects of these new technologies. It noted that at times the knowledge produced at scientific and conceptual levels was more advanced than what the operational level was able to absorb and implement. There was a need to adequately address this gap.
The Panel noted action taken by FAO in collaboration with other national, regional and international agencies in follow-up to the recommendations of the 13th Session of the Committee on Forestry (1997) and the recommendations of the 10th and 11th Sessions of the Panel, related to support to countries in the organization of country-driven and action-oriented workshops on the management of forest genetic resources (including priority setting, conservation, and sustainable resource use).
The Panel reviewed the outcome of the workshops organized in follow-up to the above recommendations: dry-zone sub-Saharan Africa, Sept 1998; the South Pacific, March 1999; Southern and Eastern Africa, June 2000. It noted that additional workshops were planned for 2002/2003 in Central Africa and Central America. Panel Members offered their support in planning, execution and follow-up to the workshops, as required.
The Panel took note of the expressed wish of countries in South/South-East Asia; Northern and Eastern Asia; and South America, with special reference to the "Southern Cone Countries", to receive assistance in the organization of similar workshops in the near future, resources permitting.
To ensure timely implementation of recommended action, the Panel stressed the importance of ensuring presence in these workshops of participants with both technical and policy responsibilities and, when possible, including also representatives of the donor community.
The Panel up-dated the lists of priority tree species in need of attention, by region and by operational activity, regularly prepared at its Sessions, drawing on information and expertise in the countries, regions and sub-regions covered by each Member. It noted that the Panel lists complemented, and built upon, national and local lists of priority species; they also complemented sub-sectoral lists and lists of e.g. endangered forest tree species, elaborated by other (national and international) institutions and organizations.
The Panel drew attention to a limited number of specific species and genera in which it recommended that FAO help strengthen on-going and planned international and national level activities of importance to a range of countries. These genera included mahoganies and neem.
The Panel stressed the importance of fostering collaboration and forging partnerships with national and international agencies, institutes and mechanisms in the forest genetic resources field, and to promote cross-sectoral linkages and encourage donor coordination. It reconfirmed its support to the main thrust and focus of programmed activities in the planned FAO work programme for the coming biennium and the Medium Term Plan. It recommended that balanced attention continue to be given to activities in the various geographical and eco-regional zones, and among forest genetic resources activities.
Noting the increasing attention that issues in forest biological diversity were receiving world-wide, the Panel recommended that FAO continue to make full use of already existing action frameworks in the implementation of forest genetic resources activities, such as national forest programmes and programmes underpinning sustainable forest management. It stressed the need to incorporate genetic principles in activities aimed at the conservation of biological diversity, and as an integral component of natural forest management.
In order to allow activities to continue in line with recommendations by concerned Statutory and Governing Bodies of the Organization, which reflected expectations of Member Countries and the international community, the Panel recommended that efforts be made to sustain present levels of resources allocated to FAO's forest genetic resources programme.
The Panel highlighted the role of FAO in raising of awareness of the potentials, and the place and role, of forest biotechnologies in genetic studies and in selection and breeding programmes, and the role of the Organization in providing ethical direction and guidance in the managed use of new technologies. The Panel recommended that FAO continue to provide timely, up-to-date, technically sound information to countries and international organizations on issues related to the use of such technologies, and that it continue to serve as "honest broker of quality science-based information on biotechnologies"48.
The Panel noted the increased need to promote application of conventional and new genetic technologies which had proven useful in industrial forestry also in the management of trees grown outside the forest, in agroforestry systems and land rehabilitation programmes, desertification control and for the capture of atmospheric carbon.
The Panel stressed the need to continue to raise awareness of the social, economic and environmental benefits of conservation and wise use of forest genetic resources, and of the direct and indirect contributions which such action made to national and rural development. It stressed the need to further emphasize the compatibility of genetic conservation and genetic management with the managed use of forest resources to meet present-day as well as future needs.
The Panel welcomed the continued attention given by FAO to the genetic management of species providing a range of wood and non-wood products and environmental services, and the attention paid to the health and vitality of the ecosystems of which they formed part. The Panel noted that action taken in regard to Prunus africana could provide useful guidance on risk assessment and conservation strategies and methodologies.
The Panel recommended that FAO continue to support countries and national institutions in the preparation of regional and eco-regional forest genetic resources status and action plans, based on priorities and needs of individual countries, and endorsed for action under a regional umbrella in related workshops. The final aim was to develop, step by step, a country-driven, participatory, global assessment and action framework for the conservation and sustainable use of forest genetic resources.
The Panel recommended that activities related to the dissemination of information and exchange of germplasm for evaluation and conservation purposes, be continued. Noting new developments in legal aspects related to collection, transfer, exchange and trade in reproductive materials, the Panel reconfirmed its view that such exchange should be based on mutually agreed terms and agreements. FAO was encouraged to further gather and disseminate relevant information on international and regional seed certification systems, access and benefit-sharing, material transfer agreements (MTAs) and biosafety aspects in germplasm exchange, including issues related to potentially invasive species and threats to forest genetic resources posed by pests and diseases.
The Panel recommended that FAO continue to catalyze and support the development of practical, technical guidelines for the management of forest genetic resources. The Panel expressed its support to the further development of methodologies and pilot activities on in situ and ex situ conservation coupled with forest management and sustainable resource use. It welcomed plans for focused attention to a limited number of species-specific networks, including neem and mahogany species, and encouraged further support to institutional networking and twinning.
The Panel recommended that special attention be paid to forest tree species threatened by genetic erosion caused by unsustainable use, and by factors such as fire, drought and other adverse environmental factors, which were often aggravated by insufficient biological and genetic knowledge of the species concerned and the ecosystems in which they occurred. Due attention should be paid to genetic resources in areas with low forest cover countries.
The Panel passed a number of specific technical recommendations complementing the recommendations above, stressing the need for continued and increased attention to information management, definitions and evaluation, including:
The FAO Conference adopted at the end of 2001 the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture by consensus. Its objectives are "the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security" (Articles 5 and 6).
1) The Treaty is in harmony with the CBD but the aim is to make arrangements for multilateral access and multilateral benefit-sharing, that is, to go around the need for bilateral negotiations on a case-by-case basis.
2) The scope is all plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. It makes provision for their conservation and sustainable use.
3) A Multilateral System of Access and Benefit-sharing applied to a list of crops established on the criteria of food security and inter-dependence. They cover about 80% of the world's food calorie intake from plants.
4) Provisions regarding access and benefit-sharing will be contained in a standard Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) and its conditions shall apply to the transfer of the resources to subsequent persons.
5) The focus has been on facilitating access to plant genetic resources, because, as the Treaty recognises, access itself is a major good.
One forestry genus, Prosopis, is included as well as several woody species such as Artocarpus, Citrus, Cocos, and Malus.
The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) which is acting as Interim Committee for the Treaty until it come into force 90 days after at least 40 countries has ratified the Treaty, held its first meeting in Rome, 9-11 October 2002 to discuss among other things the establishment of a Global Conservation Trust and the standard material transfer agreement.
For further information on the International Treaty see the website for the Secretariat of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: www.fao.org/ag/cgrfa
44 The full Report of the Panel is available on request from Forest Resources Development Service, Forestry Resources Division, Forestry Department, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy and is also available at the following web site: http://www.fao.org/forestry/gene-panel
45This information has been published as a working paper and are available in English at request from FAO at the same address as above. The full title is; Regional Updates prepared for the Twelfth Session of the FAO Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources, Rome, Italy, 21-23 November 2001. Working Paper FGR/34E. This paper will also be made available on the web site for the Gene Panel
46 See Box on the subject in this issue of Forest Genetic Resources
47 Discussions were based on Information Notes which can be found in the full report of the Panel.
48 116th Session of the FAO Council. Document CL 116/Rep. June 1999, para 25.