Item 7 of the Provisional Agenda


Rome, Italy, 10-14 March 2003


Secretariat Note

Table of Contents


1. The fundamental role of forests and sustainable forest management in national development, poverty alleviation and food security has been recognized at the highest political levels in the outcomes of the World Food Summit (1996), the World Food Summit: five years later (2002), the United Nations Millennium Summit (2000) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) (2002).

2. National forest programmes, as specified in the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) and Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF), are frameworks for a holistic country process to formulate policy and implement sustainable forest management. This note explores how national forest programmes can be instrumental in implementing the recommendations agreed at WFS:fyl and at WSSD in the Plan of Implementation.


3. A national forest programme is both a dynamic process responsive to change, and a framework for planning and action. It provides strategic orientation to the forestry sector and ensures coordinated implementation of sustainable forest management by all stakeholders in the forest sector. National forest programmes are based on the following principles agreed at IPF/IFF:

    1. national sovereignty and country leadership;
    2. consistency with national constitutional and legal frameworks, and national strategies for sustainable development;
    3. consistency with international agreements relevant to the forestry sector;
    4. holistic approach, integrating the different roles of forests and trees;
    5. inter-sectoral approach that considers the impacts of the forest sector on other sectors and vice-versa;
    6. partnership of government with other interested parties;
    7. participation of stakeholders in policy development, planning, implementation, and monitoring.

4. National forest programmes are being developed and implemented in a variety of contexts and through different processes, depending on the level of socio-economic development, the government structure, the type and condition of forest resources and the importance of the forest sector in the country. They increasingly take into account the IPF/IFF proposals for action. In developing countries, policies, strategies and programmes related to reducing poverty and hunger are increasingly influencing development efforts, including national forest programmes.


5. WFS (1996) set the blueprint to eradicate hunger in all countries, targeting the reduction of undernourished people by half no later than 2015. In the WFS Plan of Action, governments stressed the need to further promote sustainable natural resource management, including forests, in view of the contribution those sectors make to food security and poverty alleviation. They committed, inter alia, to ensure enabling environments to achieve food security and implement policies and practices that are participatory and sustainable in the field of agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development. The commitment to halving the number of undernourished people was reiterated in the WSF:fyl Declaration, UN Millennium Declaration, including the Millennium Development Goals, and WSSD Plan of Implementation.

6. WSSD recognized that sustainable forest management is an essential element of sustainable development and critical to alleviate poverty; reduce deforestation and halt the loss of forest biodiversity and forest degradation; and improve food security and access to safe drinking water and affordable energy. To this end, the WSSD Plan of Implementation called for actions to: accelerate the implementation of the IPF/IFF proposals for action; enforce domestic forest law and combat illegal international trade; promote sustainable timber harvesting; support indigenous and community-based forest management systems to ensure their effective participation; and implement the expanded programme of work on forest biological diversity of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

7. In particular, under WFS, WFS:fyl and WSSD, governments called for action on the following priorities to achieve sustainable forest management, which are of direct relevance to national forest programmes:

  1. developing the contribution of forests and trees to poverty alleviation and food security by (i) securing subsistence needs, in terms of food, energy, building material, and medicinal plants; (ii) generating income, in terms of employment in forest and forest products activities, supplement to farm income, and provision of forest inputs and services to non-forest income generating activities; (iii) raising the bargaining power of the poorest people through better access to natural capital assets; and (iv) reducing vulnerability to environmental and economic shocks;
  2. enhancing the provision of essential public goods by forest and trees by recognizing the multiple benefits of forests to protect watersheds, mitigate climate change, and act as reservoirs of biological diversity. With regard to biological diversity, emphasis is given to integrating objectives of the CBD and of its programme of work on forest biological diversity into national biodiversity strategies and cross-sectoral strategies, programmes and policies. Efforts to promote the ecosystem approach and to monitor the rehabilitation and conservation of natural resources are also underscored.

8. Governments also emphasised the need for the following actions to support the above priorities, which are also essential components of national forest programme processes:

  1. developing adequate policies to (i) promote secure land tenure, enhance access of poor people and women to resources, and protect indigenous resource management systems and indigenous people’s rights; and (ii) curb illegal logging and illegal international trade of forest products;
  2. enabling stakeholders and others in the forest sector to play their role by (i) building their capacities through education, training, skills development, and extension systems and research; and (ii) improving access to, use and sharing of information and knowledge at the local, national, and international levels.


9. National forest programmes have the potential to contribute to the implementation of the recommendations made under WFS:fyl and WSSD in three ways: (i) developing a consensus at the national level; (ii) integrating sustainable forest management into broader national processes such as poverty reduction strategies; and (iii) bringing international concerns into the national debate on forests.

Developing Consensus at the National Level

10. The main thrust of national forest programmes is to reach consensus on how to address issues relevant to forests and trees at the national level, in the overall context of sustainable development. As part of the process, partners and stakeholders get together and agree on their forest policy and strategy. The process is expected to lead to changes in legislation and regulations, institutional arrangements, and approaches to forest management planning. It is also supposed to be instrumental in mobilizing and organizing financial resources for the forest sector. To achieve these objectives, the process:

  1. builds human and institutional capacity to enable civil society participation in the debate on forest issues;
  2. establishes effective coordination and conflict resolution mechanisms;
  3. improves access to, use and sharing of information and knowledge at the local, national, and international levels;
  4. raises awareness of forest issues, from central government to the public at large, to enhance the political visibility of the sector;
  5. addresses key questions such as land and resource tenure, decentralization, privatization of commercial functions in the sector, and empowerment of local stakeholders, women in particular.

Integrating Sustainable Forest Management into Broader National Processes

11. National forest programmes are increasingly seen as key instruments to integrate sustainable forest management into broader processes at the national level, such as poverty reduction strategies (PRS). In this regard they help (i) focus PRS on key issues such as resource degradation and threats to the stability of ecosystems, and on realistic forest based income generation opportunities; (ii) assess causal links to poverty, for example, poverty profile and resource degradation, poverty and property rights, incentives and empowerment issues; (iii) devise responses, in terms of developing natural resource management capacities, investing in natural capital, and monitoring outcomes of natural resources management; and (iv) foster participatory processes to identify issues and solutions surrounding the relationship between sustainable forest management and poverty alleviation.

12. That national forest programmes can perform the functions noted above stems from the fact that the process stimulates inter-ministerial and interagency dialogue and coordination to address issues related to cross-sectoral linkages such as (i) the impact of forestry on other sectors in terms of timber and non-wood forest products, intermediate inputs to other economic activities, ecosystem protection, and cultural and aesthetic services; (ii) the direct impact of other sectors on forests, such as agriculture, transportation, energy, construction, and tourism; and (iii) underlying influences on forestry such as national fiscal and monetary policies, foreign debt and structural adjustment, and trade and exchange rates. Because national forest programmes and poverty reduction strategies are both built on wide participation, the principles and practices of sustainable forest management can more readily be incorporated into the latter.

Implementing International Commitments at the National Level

13. National forest programmes need to be used to integrate commitments made at the international level into national forest policy and planning. The main instruments and processes are (i) the Convention on Biological Diversity, with its expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biological Diversity, that promotes the development of synergies between national biodiversity strategies and action plans and national forest programmes; (ii) the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which national forest programmes should be linked under the Clean Development Mechanism; (iii) the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which is of considerable significance for the national forest programmes of many developing countries; and (iv) several other agreements such as the International Tropical Timber Agreement and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. In addition, of direct relevance to forests and trees, are the IPF/IFF proposals for action, which are derived from the Forest Principles and Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

14. The national forest programme process is also designed to inform national forest policy debate by making available international information and knowledge relevant to forests and trees. The international community is developing initiatives in this regard with (i) the recently established National Forest Programme Facility, hosted by the FAO, that supports capacity building, information exchange, networking and partnerships at the country level; and (ii) the Programme on Forests (PROFOR), hosted by the World Bank, that generates knowledge on critical issues such as governance, livelihood, and financing mechanisms. Last but not least, national forest programmes should be used to improve donor coordination and attract developmental assistance to the sector to complement national financing arrangements.


15. A key objective of the national forest programme process is to provide a strategic framework to implement national priorities, including international commitments relevant to the forest sector. Members may therefore wish to consider the following suggestions to enhance the capacity of national forest programmes to further contribute to the implementation of the outcomes of WFS:fyl and WSSD: