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Protective functions of the forest - Relationship to soil and water conservation

Role of vegetal cover
Teaching conservation to the general public

It is an accepted principle that, apart from any considerations of timber needs, some areas in any country must be maintained permanently under good ground cover which fulfills certain protective functions.

Generally speaking, reasonable utilization of such vegetal cover is in no wise inconsistent with its protective function provided it be maintained at its optimum density. But if natural growth is replaced by cultivated crops which leave the ground exposed or ill-protected for part of the year and every year remove a certain portion of the soil's organic matter and minerals, the land may become too impoverished or too deteriorated for native vegetation to re-establish itself, and hence a protective factor is temporarily or permanently lost.

In many cases, however, the need to give more land over to cultivation may prove imperative. Techniques of soil conservation, old in principle but now possible to apply on a vastly wider scale owing to the development of mechanized equipment and availability of effective fertilizers, permit intensive cultivation on areas once reserved to extensive agriculture and also, in theory at least, on sites which would a century ago have been unhesitatingly assigned to forestry. Consequently, there is less force behind certain tenets which have hitherto determined the categories of land to be retained under permanent natural cover, for example, angles of slope beyond which the soil should not be cultivated.

Because they are becoming less costly, old techniques such as terracing and contour farming can now often be used on very steep slopes, and help to provide not only for soil conservation but also for water absorption and storage, once thought to be the peculiar functions of natural cover. Similarly, it may be that under systems of shifting cultivation, the role of the forest fallow in restoring soil fertility may be supplanted by the correct application of fertilizers, even in tropical regions.

For both reasons of cost and social custom, such farming methods cannot everywhere be introduced. It is, however, certain that they will come to be used more extensively as each country is developed and as an increasing population demands more food production. In matters of land use, therefore, the choice between agriculture or natural renewable resources will tend to be decided on economic or social considerations rather than by any comparison of their relative efficacy in protecting the soil and its fertility.

In these circumstances, foresters must try to clarify their thinking as to what exactly is the protective role of permanent ground cover, conduct research to test its actual importance and the influences of various types of permanent vegetation on the same site. Lastly they must define the factors involved in any determination of what can be described as the "absolute mini mum protective area," that is, the minimum area that should be maintained under natural plant cover for purely protection purposes.

In practice, no doubt, this absolute minimum must be considerably exceeded. A reasonable minimum for each country will have to be assessed in the light of the whole economic and social situation. Where modern methods of farm management cannot be satisfactorily introduced, more permanent ground cover must be kept intact, although it is not yet established that such management methods can in fact wholly substitute for permanent ground cover, or at least for certain types such as dense forest cover: this is another question worth investigating and which cannot be lightly decided. However that may be, the fixing of the "absolute minimum protective area" is obviously very important, and it is for this reason that the Fourth World Forestry Congress has been asked to re-examine the value of the traditional conception of the protective forest, and to find out how far the criterion of protection can guide countries in deciding upon the areas that must, at all costs, be maintained under or restored to a permanent vegetal cover.

Role of vegetal cover

Protecting the soil itself

The protective function of permanent vegetation may be considered as having two facets that are, in fact closely interrelated. First of all, the vegetation affords protection to the soil itself; it stabilizes, or at least ought to stabilize, the soil. Secondly, at the same time it conserves its properties.

Soil stability is of cardinal importance. Now ground cover may consist of trees, shrubs, bush or perennial grass species, or else a mixture of these various types. From the economic standpoint and even for other reasons, the type of cover is obviously of some concern, but does it matter purely from the standpoint of soil stability? This is still a point of some debate which probably can only be answered for any given locality by research. But it seems that any type of vegetation which is sufficiently dense- to protect the soil from direct impact by rain, allows water to infiltrate into the soil and stops surface runoff, satisfactorily ensures soil stability.

On the other hand, as regards retention of soil properties, whether it be texture, chemical composition or biotic content, then the type of cover is obviously a prime factor. Unfortunate experiences with monocultures of exotic tree species have clearly shown the danger of planting programs which, originally, seemed admirable in concept. It is still not proven whether it is silviculturally sound to induce in some second-growth stands, a growing stock short of the climax type, where the species may commercially be more valuable but certainly do not provide the ground with as good quality cover. In the tropics, the substitution of grass cover for forest cover appears to lead rapidly to irreversible changes in soil structure; relatively fertile soil will often be changed so that forest can never re-establish itself and the potential economic value is gone or made negligible. In some instances, soil fertility may be impaired to such an extent that no kind of soil cover can anchor the soil, and accelerated erosion results.

Maintenance of soil equilibrium

The aspects considered above would be of relatively minor importance if the disappearance for any cause of natural plant cover affected only the immediate area where that cover originally occurred; the damage would then be within calculable limits. What we generally mean when referring to the protective functions of vegetation is something more - the indirect influences on adjacent and other lands and soils, and it is this which must be taken into account when it comes to determining any "absolute minimum protective area."

Much research on such influences has been and is still being carried out. It would be valuable if experts at the Fourth World Forestry Congress could appraise the findings to-date, since the truth in this matter must be one of the foundations on which forest policy must be built. Each of the many aspects of forest influences could usefully be reviewed, even if the conclusion is likely to be that experience is still too brief and especially too localized for any general conclusions to be drawn.

Mechanical protection

The protection afforded may, in the first instance, be purely mechanical. As far as the forest is concerned, this is an elementary role long recognized. For instance, communities living on exposed slopes in mountain areas maintain patches of forest above their houses as protection against landslides and rockfalls; the fact that the trees are grouped in isolation in the middle of land cleared elsewhere for grazing or cultivation is evidence that they have been retained there intentionally. Moreover, the character of the woods shows that cutting has been kept to a minimum or even strictly prohibited, despite proximity to the village.

Protection against avalanches is also a purely mechanical service of the forest. Even relatively dense forest cannot, of course, withstand the full force of an avalanche or the shock of the ensuing air blast, but it helps to anchor the snow and prevent slides gathering momentum. Since dangerous avalanches usually start above the natural tree line, much research has been devoted to finding hardy tree species and races that can be introduced artificially at high altitudes to aid in controlling critical zones. It is to be noted, however, that not all types of woody growth have protective value: low brush, for instance, buried to the top or nearly so, can facilitate the start of avalanches by causing uneven packing of the snow or the formation of inner cavities.

Fixing shifting sand

The effect of plant growth in anchoring shifting sands can also be classified, at least in part, as mechanical action, although it is more complex than in the preceding examples and the results more problematical.

However, a useful function can be served by indigenous or exotic plants and trees in fixing windborne sands; the fixation of the fine particles of sand, of course, is not due solely to the binding action of the compact and complex root systems of the herbaceous or woody vegetation able to grow under such conditions. As a humus layer forms, this also tends to anchor the sand, as does the higher moisture content below the plant cover; the above-ground vegetation helps to break the force of the winds that cause shifting sand dunes.

Unfortunately, shifting sands are generally a phenomenon associated with regions where forest or any other type of vegetation is inevitably difficult to establish or maintain. In some coastal areas, the salinity of the soil or of the wind driving off the sea prevents the use of all but a very few plant species; in arid zones elsewhere long periods of drought and sharp fluctuations in temperature are distinctly unfavorable to plant growth. The choice in species to be introduced or maintained is, therefore, very limited.

Still, in the last fifty years on every continent much research has been carried out on the important problems of arresting driven sand. The Fourth World Forestry Congress should express an opinion as to the extent to which the results of such research enable any of the countries directly concerned to check the advance of the desert and to restore in arid areas conditions favorable to human life, farming, grazing and forest.

Climatic influences

The part played by extensive forested areas or natural grasslands in forming the pattern of world climates is still a matter of considerable debate. But it represents a type of protection of a distinctly physical or physiological nature which, though little studied, may be of major significance from a regional, and even a world, standpoint. The type of research involved comes up against the fact that knowledge of climatic changes and their causes throughout the world, even within historic times, is inadequate. Has man, by the modifications he has wrought in the vegetation in some parts of the globe, significantly contributed to any of these changes? It is certainly not easy to decide the impact or scope of man's action and there are no historical data to go on; so what methods and techniques of investigation should be used? This is a question which badly needs an answer.

Many observers have reported that there has been a definite recession of the forest in some parts of the world, especially in Africa. Increased population, the introduction of crops demanding forest clearance, and the persistence of certain destructive practices such as uncontrolled use of fire, all indicate that the recession is likely to continue, perhaps more rapidly. What is to happen, for instance, when the vast forests of central Africa are destroyed or reduced to a mere fraction of their present area is obviously a sociological and economic problem affecting not only the peoples of Africa but perhaps also of the whole world.

The results in some countries of some truly large-scale projects to create forest belts as a protection against searing wind and dessication tend to show that a real modification in climate can be brought about. The effect of extensive forests on moisture-laden winds may be quite different to those on dry winds, but we ought to know for certain. Certainly an investigation of the protective role of natural vegetation in relation to world climates is of cardinal importance and is the type of study that might suitably be undertaken jointly by several United Nations agencies.

Water supplies

Much research has been devoted to the influence of natural vegetation on water supplies, and several countries have spent substantial funds and set aside considerable watershed areas for experiments on run-off conditions under various patterns of vegetative cover. Experiments of this nature are important in that they make it possible to appraise the relative effects of various types of cover on the quantity and quality of water supplies. Results in one locality, however, often do not hold true elsewhere and much more scientific research is needed to evaluate "forest influences" in this respect and provide a reliable basis for decisions on what areas should be reserved to forest or other types of natural cover, and whether cutting and other forms of utilization should be altogether excluded or strictly controlled.

Even without research, common experience seems amply to substantiate the Russian saying that "the forest is the mother of water," and has clearly revealed that only sound management of watersheds, with thriving natural vegetation covering a minimum area, is likely to guarantee a regular streamflow, limit flood damage, check accelerated erosion, reduce the silting of reservoirs, prolong the life of dams vital to hydroelectric industries and irrigation, prevent the gradual choking of estuaries, and provide large urban centers with constant supplies of good water.

But experience gained the bitter way is no substitute insofar as framing forest policies is concerned, for research and the systematic collection of information. This costs money and it is a sad reflection how few countries are prepared to understand this. In 1951 the well-known authority E. P. Stebbing undertook a world enquiry into what may be considered the essential foundation of a general understanding of the relations between water and forest, or the study of "the sources of rivers and tributaries to find out definitely what proportion of forest clothes their catchment areas, its type and how managed." Despite the quantity of data collected, Stebbing had to conclude his work with these words: "It has proved an interesting study, if only from the point of view of the extraordinary meagerness of available information." The widespread lack of understanding of any need for deliberate watershed management is a topic that ought to engage the attention of the Fourth World Forestry Congress.

Though research experiments that can yield useful and reliable data for analysis are difficult to devise, there is already quite a body of knowledge available today from which general inferences can be drawn. Two points, however, should be borne in mind.

First, analytical studies should also lead to a "synthesis," in other words to constructive conclusions. The fact that a forest massif causes more abundant precipitation or greater condensation of atmospheric moisture is undoubtedly of certain significance. But what we really want to know is the balance, season by season, between the precipitation and the water available for consumption or use by man. We must be enabled to draw general inferences from analysis of the particular influence of natural cover on rainfall, evaporation, transpiration and infiltration.

Second, the objectives, and consequently the orientation to be given to research, are not the same for all catchment areas, as may be seen by taking two extreme examples. In the case of a watershed in a mountainous region where slopes are steep and the rainfall abundant and well distributed, the object will be to obtain a regular streamflow and an effective protection against erosion. In the case of a hilly watershed with scanty rainfall and long periods of drought, the principle object will be to secure the maximum infiltration of water and its subterranean storage until it is required, say for the irrigation of areas located below the watershed.

The implications of the second case just cited above deserve consideration because foresters have sometimes been reproached for not being sufficiently circumspect when making plantations, in that the species planted, using a great deal of water, have apparently affected the flow of streams and even rivers. Sometimes criticism seems justified. Foresters must, therefore, be objective in seeking the best solution for each particular case. Plantations of merchantable timber may not be the answer to watershed management in certain climates; the effect of such plantations should be compared with that of other types of permanent vegetation, such as low brush or grass. There have been long arguments on the relative merits of high forest and grass (assuming that both are kept in proper condition) in erosion control and preserving soil structure in connection with water infiltration; in Australia, to take one example, the protective effects of eucalyptus stands have been attributed to the herbaceous ground cover, not to the trees, so in no case should a priori conclusions be drawn. It is obviously desirable that the protective cover on watersheds be at the same time of high financial value, but grass cover, if suitably utilized, can also give high financial returns. Moreover, if the principal object is to obtain water yields, it must not be forgotten that in broad economic terms the water may be worth very much more than either the possible timber or fodder yields.

Plantations "outside the forest"

In the last 20 years much research has been devoted to finding out the actual protective effects of tree plantings as windbreaks, shelterbelts, and hedgerows around cultivated fields.

The establishing and upkeep of such borders are nothing new for most countries. Judicious planting can be a great asset to farmers especially in relatively poorly forested areas, the main purpose may be economic, to supply timber and fuel and also in some cases to yield a fodder supplement, but these uses, although important, are not what concern us here.

The effects of windbreaks and shelter belts are now fairly well understood. The desirable sizes, shapes and spacing of trees to obtain certain effects are in general also known, although some points of local concern still need to be clarified by further research. The remaining issue to be decided for each particular case is the species that are adapted to the local climatic and edaphic conditions, and which will grow vigorously enough to produce the desired result in a short time.

The indirect effect of windbreaks on evaporation due to reduction in wind force has also been thoroughly studied, and here it is well to remember that the trees themselves will use or cause to evaporate a certain amount of water. Also they take up room and may be demanding in organic and mineral requirements, so that they may lower fruit and crop yields. In some instances, they may shelter animal and insect pests. But on the credit side their action is not restricted to protection against wind and evaporation; where much of the precipitation takes the form of snow, windbreaks help spread the snowfall evenly, usually retard the melting of the snow accumulated on their edges, facilitate infiltration after thaw, and reduce runoff.

Wherever the establishment of shelter belts and windbreaks appears advisable either for economic reasons or as a means of wind erosion control, further research and analysis should be made, especially as regards effect on average crop yield. As valid findings can only be drawn from averages, research will be a lengthy business. In fact, not only do climatic conditions vary from one year to another, but soil losses through wind erosion become measurable only after many years. Further, protective belts are only fully effective when the trees have reached full size. Figures revealed so far on higher crop production on land protected by windbreaks are certainly very encouraging but before they can be accepted as conclusive much more research needs to be carried out.

The same may be said in regard to the common practice of border planting along irrigation canals, around reservoirs, or alongside roads. The advantages and disadvantages of such plantings, either including or excluding their economic value, need to be realistically assessed. The answer will probably be favorable but at least a proper understanding of their true value is essential to forest policy decisions and to foresters who have to give effect to policy.

Deviating still further from the forest proper, the actual influence of taungya methods of cultivation, a common practice in many countries, on soil conservation and the water cycle, as well as the effect on crop yields and on grass production, could profitably be established. The idea that multiple use, combining forestry, agriculture and grazing, is the best way of using some types of land, originated in the Mediterranean countries but has already been widely adopted in other regions and is increasingly gaining ground.

Forests and health

Studies are also needed to determine the influence of forests on air purification and on human health in general, an attribute which appears to be firmly recognized at least in the temperate zone. An example often cited is the establishment of the Landes forests in France at the beginning of the last century; this is credited with a striking expansion in the local population, a drop in the mortality rate and a general improvement in health. Town planning authorities rightly try to set aside greenbelt areas around and even within urban areas for "fresh air" and recreation.

On the other hand, in the tropics forests are often regarded as unhealthy and enervating areas, mainly because they shut off the breeze which is such a feature of relief in tropical climates. Also, of course, they frequently shelter harmful insects and pests of man and his livestock. The need to eradicate tsetse fly and other livestock pests in some parts of Africa is used as an argument by those who are radically in favor of forest clearance, although there are methods of destroying these insects or rendering them innocuous other than by razing the forests.

Biological balance

Lastly, the question of the general optimum biological balance and of the part that has to be played by various categories of natural cover is a matter that can only be elucidated by broad regional or world-wide investigations for which at present only the most fragmentary data are available. Indeed many basic factors involved must remain unknown for a very long time to come.

The clearing of a small forest area or the burning over of a limited area of natural grassland apparently carries little permanent effect. When the land is left to itself, usually the original type of vegetation gradually returns and so the primitive balance is restored by nature. But if such operations are repeated at short intervals, if they cover extensive areas and if, by design or accident, the natural climax vegetation is prevented from reestablishing itself - as has been happening ever since man tamed his environment - then the disruption of the natural biological equilibrium may be much more serious.

The near-sightedness of man means that he is only aware of immediate consequences of this disequilibrium, such as a deterioration in the soil he cultivates, which may indeed often be serious enough to induce him to take some counter-action. Generally he has no conception of the remote effects in time and space of the unbalance he brings about.

What effect has the wholesale clearing of wide areas had on the climates of the world? What effect does the deterioration of upland range and forest in the watershed area really have on the meandering of a large river and on the silting of its estuary, perhaps thousands of kilometers away? What is the effect on animal populations of changed environments and on the insect pests and parasites of these animals? Lastly, what is the effect on man himself who, after all, is only one of the living creatures of this planet?

Without doubt there is no question of conserving or restoring an original balance for the mere satisfaction of so doing: man's whole progress is bound up with changes in nature which in fact are both cause and effect. But one has only to look around the world and note the regions that have become barren, to be convinced that caution is necessary. Modern man's outlook has broadened, and he is beginning to be aware of the interdependence of people everywhere. Now it is essential for him to weigh the far-reaching consequences of each new change in his environment which he wants to bring about.

Understanding of the biological balance becomes the more urgent as man attains more powerful means of altering it. We are convinced that knowledge of this sort would provide the scientific basis on which it would be possible actually to define those parts of the globe that must remain under the protection of natural cover to forestall progressive impoverishment of the peoples for whom the soil represents the sole permanent wealth.

Teaching conservation to the general public

It is still of little use to build up a science, however valuable, so long as its lessons are not applied in practice. Fortunately, in this case instruction in conservation can precede the full elaboration of the science.

Conservation in the now commonly accepted sense means the wise management and use of renewable natural resources, and its primary object is to preserve the productive capacity of these resources. We are not concerned here with teaching conservation to the experts actually dealing with these natural resources, although we would mention that in some cases it would be an advantage if their training gave them a broader perspective of the interdependence of all forms of land use. What we are especially concerned with is the education of the population as a whole, and in particular of those laymen who can greatly influence public opinion.

Undeniably considerable progress in this respect has been made in many countries. Many praiseworthy efforts on the part of governments have been reported to FAO in regard to publicity campaigns, adult education, teaching of children, organizing of "tree festivals," and so on. Other means used that come to mind are allotting tree nurseries or woodlands to schools; talks, films and television programs for students or courses for their teachers; publicity through posters, the press, radio and television; the organizing of "Friends of the Tree" societies and of child, youth or adult nature study groups; and extension work among private owners or users of forest and range.

Is this enough? We do not think so. Usually these various means have only a passing attraction. The idea that conservation is a vital and personal matter is still not successfully conveyed to individuals - whereas we should be seeking to make conservation of natural resources as much a natural instinct as self-preservation. There is in fact a similarity between the two ideas: for the present generation has only temporary use of the world's soils and should hand that trust on to future generations with the soils' productive capacity unimpaired if not improved.

A few countries have already come close to this ideal, which proves that it is in no way impossible of accomplishment. Even in countries where bread is plentiful, children are taught not to waste bread: why should it be more difficult to teach them respect for an infinitely more valuable asset - the soil that produces the bread, together with all the other good things indispensable to human life? In fact, the education of children and young people should be imbued through and through with the theme of conservation. Constant reference to it should be made in teaching the elements of all the sciences that directly concern man - history, geography and the natural sciences. Elementary geography books explain the water cycle to children: is it more difficult to explain that this cycle is not unchanging and that man-made erosion is a threatening phenomenon?

An international campaign

Creating an enlightened public opinion is essential - and a preliminary step in this direction is the education of the governmental and political circles in any country. This is the task of professional foresters and men in industry and trade.

Considerable time may indeed elapse before their arguments are heeded, especially if such counter measures as they propose clash with tradition, accepted rights, or deep-rooted custom. In one great country which is now applying strict measures for the protection of its soils, serious erosion damage was reported as early as 1900. Yet, despite the farmers' outcry, the alarming reports of special investigating commissions, and the clear evidence of damage in years of exceptional drought, it was not until 1933 that the first soil rehabilitation measures were taken by the government which, from then, had to expend yearly an amount equivalent to 25 million dollars. Misuse and consequent erosion, however, had already caused some injuries that were irreparable. Serious changes in streamflow, the drying up of many rivers, the deterioration of range and cultivated land stemmed from ill-regulated grazing by sheep whose number had quadrupled in 30 years and by cattle that had increased threefold, from bush fires, from thoughtless clearing and from bad farming practices. By 1933 four large artificial reservoirs built between 1920 and 1925 had been reduced to from 14 to 45 percent of their initial capacities.

It is important, therefore, to provide experts with force for their arguments and to give governments justifications so that they can introduce measures now rather than later - measures that, if too long deferred, may be wildly expensive and only a partial remedy for an already irreversible process.

This, it is suggested, could in part be done through the formal and solemn recognition, at high governmental level, of certain basic principles of soil conservation policy, to be followed by a vigorous campaign for their adoption in practice in all countries of the world.

Because the forest is the key to the conservation of all soils, it would in no way be out of place for foresters to take the initiative in launching such a campaign, and an occasion such as the Fourth World Forestry Congress would be an appropriate opportunity to do so.

It may in truth be objected that the formulation of valid general principles of soil conservation is most difficult because of the widely different soil and climatic conditions throughout the world, as well as the differences in social structure and technical and industrial progress. The difficulties are indeed great but not insuperable: we are not thinking in terms of static but of functional principles.

Correct land use and soil conservation go hand in hand; but some types of land use, and a specific blending of various uses, will be suitable for one type of national economy though not another. Not every country, then, can subscribe to utilizing a given category of land in a specific manner, termed "correct," although all perhaps could agree on the uses to which that land should not be put. Limitation in use and balancing of uses - taking into account physical, economic and social conditions - must, it seems, underlie universal principles of soil conservation.

Supplementary to these general principles, specific principles for each kind of land use are necessary, and these, for forestry, have already been formulated and recommended by the Member Governments of FAO.

It is not known what view the Fourth World Forestry Congress may take of this whole line of reasoning. The Congress however, undoubtedly concede proper emphasis to the forest's role in soil conservation; and what the forest can and should do in the rehabilitation of deteriorated lands, and this in itself is highly important. The economic value of the "forest" in the broadest sense is a concept for the most part easily understood; its protective value, often far superior to its productive value, still too often lacks appreciation.

In reality the protective and productive roles of the "forest" complement each other. But in a world where "progress" seems to carry serious dangers for the forest, we must again and again stress conservation and protective functions.


FAO - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - grew out of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture held at Hot Springs, Virginia, U.S.A., in May 1943.


At that Conference 44 nations agreed to work together to secure a lasting peace through freedom from want. In particular, they agreed that international co-operative effort was needed to raise the standards of living of the under-nourished two-thirds of the world's population.

FAO was formally founded at Quebec, Canada in October 1945 - the first of the new specialized United Nations agencies to be created after the war.

Forty-two governments ratified the Constitution at Quebec; by the end of 1953, FAO's membership had risen to 71 countries. The chief aims of the young organization were defined as follows:

to help nations raise the standard of living;
to improve nutrition of the peoples of all countries;
to increase the efficiency of farming, forestry and fisheries
to better the condition of rural people;
and, through all these means, to widen the opportunity of all people for productive work.


FAO is governed by a Conference, normally meeting Once every two years, in which each Member Nation has one vote.

Between Conference Sessions, the Council of FAO acts as the Organization's governing body. It is composed at present of representatives of 24 Member Nations, elected by the Conference. It usually meets each spring and autumn, with brief meetings also immediately after each Conference Session

The Director-General, appointed by the Conference, directs the work of the Organization's staff, appointed by him. The present Director-General, Dr. P. V. Cardon (U.S.A.), was chosen by the 1953 Conference. The Secretariat is organized into a central administrative group, five technical divisions - agriculture, economies, fisheries, forestry and nutrition - and an informational and educational division which includes the library and legislative services, publications and public information.

In addition to the Headquarters office, FAO has regional offices - in Washington for North America; in Cairo for the Near East; in Bangkok for Asia and the Far East, and in Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Santiago de Chile for Latin America.


Although FAO is an autonomous, independent organization, it is at the same time a member of the United Nations family of specialized agencies. With the United Nations itself, FAO works through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Collaboration is maintained with the respective United Nations Economic Commissions for Europe (ECE), for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE), and for Latin America (ECLA), all set up by ECOSOC.


As an association of sovereign governments in what has been called an "international self-help co-operative," FAO's functions include:

Promoting and recommending national and international action with respect to research, improvement of education and administration, conservation, processing, marketing, distribution, credit, international commodity arrangements, and the furnishing of such technical assistance as governments may request in carrying out the* activities along these lines in order to reach FAO's objectives.

FAO is no super-government, has no executive powers, and is without authority or funds to buy and distribute materials or machinery, or to operate research laboratories. Through its functions it can help its Member States in two main ways:

1. by maintaining an intelligence service to gather, analyze and disseminate technical and economic information which the FAO staff and Member States may use as the bases of sound action, and;

2. by developing action programs to supplement those initiated by governments, which FAO, on the request of governments, can assist them to carry out.

Both activities are included in FAO's regular program. For 1954 and 1955 the budget was set at $6,000,000 annually. To be carried out on any wide scale, the second type of work - intensive direct technical assistance to Member States on the myriad problems of food and agriculture - requires more funds than such budgets provide.

Therefore work of this type was limited, until in 1950, governments, members of one or more of the United Nations family of agencies, created by the* voluntary contributions the Special Fund for Economic Development of Underdeveloped Areas. About 28 percent of this fund has annually been available for work in FAO's fields, a larger share than is devoted to the work of any other single agency in the group. Thus FAO has had about $5,000,000 to $6,000,000 annually to finance the sending of technical advisory experts to help requesting Member States with their problems including the training of their own people better to help themselves. This Expanded Technical Assistance Program (ETAP) is a logical extension of one aspect of FAO's work. It is directed by the regular staff. It rests upon the strong foundation given it by a continuing organization supplied with the necessary data, and experienced in the various fields of work.

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