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Productive functions of the forest - Management for wood production and for other economic or social purposes

The role of forests in the national economy
Determining the area of forest needed from a national standpoint
Managing the area needed

Recognition of the protective functions of the forest and their importance to man is relatively recent. This awareness is long antedated by the use of forests in the production of other goods and services which must be as old, or very nearly as old, as the human race itself.

From time immemorial the forest has supplied man with useful goods; fuel for warmth and cooking, and materials for shelter, tools and transport. Though wood products have now changed in both degree and kind, and modern chemistry enables wood to be plasticized, moulded, laminated, impregnated and turned into a bewildering number of products, still roughly half our wood is used for fuel. And much of the remainder still goes, as in primitive times, into relatively crude materials for shelter and transport.

Indeed the qualities which made the forest of use to primitive man - its widespread occurrence; the variety, workability and adaptability of its produce; and its capacity for self-renewal after long use and even abuse - still operate as before to make it a basic source of raw materials. Conversely, the major disadvantages of wood from modern society's standpoint - its great diversity and often refractory and unpredictable qualities, but especially its weight and bulkiness, or more accurately its low value per unit of weight and bulk - are still a potent cause of local timber shortages, even in some countries with an abundance of forest wealth.

Taken as a whole, the forest resources of the world, especially if regarded in terms of available land, are still abundant enough to supply services and goods in ample quantity. The problem of forest productivity is how to make this great, versatile and renewable resource serve man to a fuller extent, to something at least approaching its real capacity. For economic expansion, increasing populations and rising living standards will make high demands on the forest for goods and services, demands that cannot be met with forests producing only a fraction of their potentialities.

This, then is the real challenge to world forestry, and conditions would now seem more favorable than heretofore to meet it. For, in spite of a world torn by dissension and hostility, the fact remains that for the first time in history nations have mutually bound themselves to strive in their own self-interests toward a more abundant production of goods from the soil as a basis for improved standards of living. A heartening program of mutual advice and assistance has been formulated and launched, and foresters are better organized internationally than ever before to co-operate and coordinate policies and action programs in the interest of the better use of the forest resource. It is in the light of these developments that we must survey the objectives and problems of improving forest productivity.

The role of forests in the national economy

Before going on to examine what might be done to increase world forest productivity, it may be well to review the role of forests in national and regional economies and the policy problems involved in determining the forest areas needed in a sound pattern of land use. In brief, over and above its protective functions, the forest serves man by producing wood for fuel, housing, furniture, mining timber, sleepers, poles and other industrial uses; by yielding raw materials and chemicals for industry, chiefly cellulose for paper; by furnishing meat, hides, furs and wool from domestic and wild animals; and by affording areas for relaxation and recreation.

The magnitude of these services are perhaps best brought out by noting that forests proper occupy perhaps one-fourth of the world's land area, and produce in wood alone, the principal product, around 1,000 million tons annually, valued at 60 percent more than world production of coal and 100 percent more than crude steel or oil.

Forest and associated grasslands together occupy more than half of the world's land area, including grazing lands that are too dry, too rough, or too rocky for improved pasture; open forests and savannas where much grazing vegetation occurs under the scattered tree growth; desert shrub types, mountain meadows and alpine grasslands near or above the timber line; and the extensive tundras of the far north. Although the exact acreage of open grasslands may not be known, millions of people, nomadic herdsman and others, gain their livelihood from these lands. And many more millions derive all or part of their living from processing, transporting or selling the meat, wool, hides, milk and other animal products from the wildland ranges. Just how much of the world's meat supply comes from natural range lands is not known, but it must be a high proportion. In the United States, about half the beef cattle and 70 percent of the sheep get a considerable part of their feed requirements from native ranges.

To the wealth in raw materials that the forest provides must be added the wealth created by manufacture. For much of this raw material is further altered by mechanical and chemical means into a great variety of useful and more valuable articles for human use. The value added by manufacture has been estimated at many times the value of the raw material for the more highly industrialized regions of Europe and North America. This is less important than the fact that the quantity of industrial wood consumed tends to reflect the industrial growth and development of a country and its economic strength. On a regional basis the stage of industrial development is crudely reflected in the figures shown in Table 1. Industrial use of wood varies from about 10 to 12 percent of total cut in Africa and Latin America, to over 80 percent in the United States and Canada.

Table 1 - Total and industrial wood cut





of witch industrial wood


of witch industrial wood

Million cubic meters - solid volume of roundwood











Canada and U.S.A.





Latin America















Pacific Area










Source: FAO Yearbook of Forest Products Statistics 1953

Only a few other salient facts need to be noted here. First, although the bulk of the roundwood harvested is still used in crude form, about half as fuel and much of the remainder as sawn material, the percentage used for more highly elaborated products such as plywood, laminates, and particularly paper and various paper derivatives, grows steadily. This results not only in the creation of new and useful products and the addition of considerable value in final products, with the concurrent values of useful employment of human labor, but from a forest production standpoint there is an important concomitant in the increasing percentage use of small diameter wood. The ability to dispose profitably of small wood of all species is still the key to good silviculture under most conditions. In addition, there is a slight but steady increase in the percentage of total roundwood used for industrial purposes and the rising value of wood thus indicated is an important lever, as can be readily appreciated, in opening up new areas and intensifying production from developed areas of marginal value.

The production of wood for fuel, housing, rural use, and transport; the production of meat, hides, fur and wool; and serving as areas for relaxation and recreation in a civilization of more exacting tempo - these will continue to be major uses for forests for any foreseeable future period. To such uses national policy should add, insofar as feasible, greater utilization and development of forests as a basis for trade and industry. Accordingly forest policy must, after due provision for the basic protective functions of the forests, consider forest productivity, and what this may mean in the national economy, in relation to a great complexity of local and regional factors.

Determining the area of forest needed from a national standpoint

What, then, are the criteria that must be used in determining national policies in relation to forest productivity' In general, policy must aim at "satisfying as far as possible the national wood requirements of the people of the country and its industries and internal and foreign trade, after weighing the economic implications of imports and exports." 1 What does this mean when considered in more detail and as applied to national situations?

1 Forest Policy, Law and Administration, FAO Forestry and Forest Products Studies No. 2, Washington-Rome December 1950.

Social factors

A basic principle long recognized by foresters is that the best land use and land management pattern is the one that will in the long run furnish the greatest good to the greatest number of people. From this standpoint, as already indicated, sound forest policy will recognize domestic requirements for food, fuel and primary shelter as of first importance. Among these, food requirements must take first place. Within limits, policy may reasonably foster colonization of forest lands and encourage forest clearing by land grants and subsidies, provided recognition is given to the need for a farsighted settlement of any real conflict in land use raised by the demand for food, and for a proper examination of the perplexing problems involving forested areas, especially in areas of already dense or rapidly rising population.

Although the needs for food are paramount, fuel and shelter are almost equally basic human requirements. This applies as much to the inhabitants of the Congo forests as to the Eskimos of the northern regions - neither could exist without fuel and shelter; And although this does not necessarily imply the they need wood, where wood is the most suitable material to serve these purposes, then experience indicates that there is a minimum in the amount of land used for forest production below which it is unwise to go, even under the greatest population pressures for land for other agricultural and industrial needs. This is true even for highly industrialized or agriculturally developed countries like Denmark, the Netherlands or the United Kingdom. It seems self-evident, therefore, that forest policy must give first consideration to real domestic requirements for fuel and shelter.

It is also evident, however, that these requirements will vary widely, not only with the abundance and availability of other fuels or materials but also with such social factors as the organization of society and particularly the stage of industrial development. For instance, the use of wood for fuel, usually most common in rural areas, ordinarily decreases rapidly with industrial development, and policy must take such factors and resultant trends in demand, into due consideration. The conversion of former coppice to high forest now under way in many parts of Europe, is directly the result of changes in domestic requirements for fuel wood which have affected management policies.

Social factors affecting policy include patterns of land ownership by the State, established "rights" or forest usages grounded in law or custom, and the need, particularly in well-wooded countries, for forested areas for recreation, national parks and for scientific investigations. It may be remarked that the spreading complexity and urbanization of modern life and industrialized societies increasingly brings into prominence the need for forest and other "wilderness" areas just for recreation; this need may range from city parks or woodland areas in the country developed for the use of large numbers of daily or week-end visitors, to road-less areas presenting as far as possible primeval conditions in which all normal productivity use such as grazing or timber cutting is barred. Policy must take into consideration national and local needs which will vary with public requirements and desires.

Economic criteria

Closely related and integrated with the social factors just discussed are a number of important economic considerations basic to the development of sound policy. Indeed just as policy on protective forests deals primarily with forests in their "physical" aspects, forest productivity and related policy deals largely with forests in their economic aspects, as direct or indirect producers of tangible wealth. Foremost among such matters comes the problem of determining the quantity and character of the goods necessary to satisfy the domestic and industrial needs previously discussed, the determination of such requirements and related consumption trends are essentially economic matters. Coupled with a suitably detailed appraisal of present and potential forest productivity, such estimates form the essential base for determining forest policy aimed at meeting primary needs. Due consideration must also be given to the physical accessibility of forest areas and the relative value of the products, both of which aspects will determine economic accessibility. Sound forest policy will take into due account the building of an adequate transport and communications system; and also the promoting of research and inventions to create new commodities derived from forest products or to increase the worth of known products so as to raise the value of the growing stock in the forest and make its extraction an economic proposition. The development of more efficient sawing and machining techniques is an example of possible aid in this direction.

Similarly, sound economic policy will advance the development of a properly trained, and well-housed and fed, and therefore contented force of forest and industrial workers. Attention must also be given to the development both of internal markets and foreign trade, with proper weighing of export-import balances and due value, given to desirable degrees of national self-sufficiency. Also under this head will come measures to foster forest co-operatives where these are justified by circumstances; to develop reasonable schedules of forest taxation; provide forest insurance and, if in the public interest, to develop a system of subsidies or grants-in-aid to forest owners insofar as these are necessary to adequate forest production. In this respect, forest policies may often have to make public provision for forest roads forest credits, and favorable marketing and taxation procedures.

Technical factors

Once the domestic needs and exigences of other factors have been reasonably well established, policy must, of course, give consideration to the character and size of both the existing and potential resource as affected by soil capabilities, the physical factors of climate and topography, and social-economic criteria. In this connection, particularly where land is a scarce commodity, national policy should not overlook the possibility of encouraging production, under suitable precautions, from protection forests, from hedgerows and roadside trees, and from shelterbelts and other "plantations outside the forest," which in fact already furnish a substantial part of essential needs in a number of countries.

From the standpoint of technical factors, sound forest policy must make provision for adequate forest protection against fire, disease, and insects, usually a public (State) function. It should help to develop intelligent and sympathetic public attitudes towards the forest by education. It should sponsor or even finance the research needed to develop proper silvicultural and management techniques for the nation's forest and range lands. Here also full production may require advice and guidance from the State, especially to private owners of smaller woodlands, in applying techniques to forest and range lands proved suitable by research or experience. An extension or educational program frequently requires public assistance or administration. In addition, national policy may in the public interest require the regulation of timber cutting on private lands or technical control of such cutting by competent professional foresters. Sound forest policy often includes public provision for forest protection, for free or low cost forest planting, for technical advice and guidance and other public grants-in-aid including the forest credits, favorable trade and taxation policies and a forest road system previously mentioned as compensating factors for restrictions placed, in the public interest, on private cutting or other private use.

Managing the area needed

In the foregoing synopsis much has been said of factors that must affect policy decisions on increasing the productivity of forests. From the practical point of view forest production can be influenced most materially by:

1. extending the area of productive forest and forest range:

(a) by seeding and planting;

(b) by making access to undeveloped forests economic through enhanced values for their products or by reducing harvesting, transport, processing and marketing costs;

2. improving management;
3. reducing waste.

The possibilities under each of these broad heads are many and varied and the following sections merely offer illustrations and suggestions from among the means available.

Extending the area of forest and forest range

Seeding and planting: One of the obvious ways in which to extend the forest area of a country is through large-scale planting. A considerable number of governments are known to have definite plans to stock areas not now forested, most of which were formerly covered with forests. In western Europe, for example, there are plies to establish 10 million hectares of forest plantations over the next 25 years, although much more than this amount is really needed. A number of countries in Asia, anxious especially to increase fuelwood supplies, are committed to establishing plantations principally for the production of wood for fuel and charcoal. Some of these plantations are to be irrigated; in most cases the land to be used is not now producing useful crops of any kind.

In some parts of the world considerable success has attended efforts to establish plantations of fast-growing species for special purposes. Outstanding have been the plantations of newly-developed hybrids of poplar in some European countries, in Argentina and Uruguay in Latin America, and in the United States. The effort is now being extended to the Near East. Through the International Poplar Commission, a body sponsored by FAO, experts drawn from many countries have been exchanging information on research and experience and the practical results of their activities are seen in the increasing areas and yield of poplar plantations. Similarly the introduction of many species of eucalypts 2 has been successful in countries along the North African seaboard and in South America. The famous Pinus radiata has been grown successfully in New Zealand, Australia, Africa, and South America, notably Chile, to create new forests on formerly non-producing land and yield important quantities of pulpwood and saw timber.

2 Les Eucalyptus dans les reboisements, FAO Forestry and Forest Products Studies No. 11, Rome, 1954.

In this connection machine-planting of trees, under favorable circumstances, has markedly reduced the cost of plantation establishment, particularly where scarcity of man-power leads to high labor costs. It has at the same time greatly speeded up the rate at which planting can be accomplished, as compared with hand-labor methods. The same applies to the use of mechanical equipment in forest nurseries. It is true that such mechanized operations are not suitable for all locations, but the savings are so marked that careful trials are justified to determine, under any given set of circumstances, whether or not such methods should be adopted.

Essential in efforts to extend the forest area through planting is, of course, the supply of seed of suitable geographic origin and, where possible, of superior parent trees. To foster the international exchange of such high quality seed, the Conference of FAO, the governing body of the Organization, has approved uniform certificates of origin and quality, as well as a standard consignment form for international shipment. The Organization has also inaugurated a seed exchange clearinghouse service which includes the issuing of an annual Forest Seed Directory listing suppliers, both governmental and commercial, and the tree species whose seeds they are prepared to exchange or sell.

Forest plantations may be started on bare land to extend the productive forest area, or planting can be carried out on cut-over, burned-over or eroded forest land; similarly reseeding and other measures can extend the productive area of forest grazing land, either land not producing to capacity or which has deteriorated as a result of misuse. Examples of such successful restoration can be cited from a number of countries. In Canada, for instance, range seeded to crested wheat-grass (Agropyron desertorum and A. cristatum) has yielded four to six times more grazing than unseeded depleted range; in the United States, extensive reseeding has resulted in increasing forage on the seeded area from three to ten times. Of course, such successes in these and other countries have been accomplished only by intelligent choice of favorable sites, adapted species, proper methods of crop establishment, favorable seasons for seeding and, particularly, the proper grazing management of the seeded stand.

Other measures tried with success include transplanting of grass tufts (Bermuda grass - Cynodon dactylon - and other rhizomatous grasses lend themselves to transplanting) and seedlings of fodder trees and palatable shrubs from nurseries, and in this connection methods developed by foresters in Morocco might well be copied in other like areas. Use of fertilizers has also greatly increased yields of forage per hectare in widely different parts of the world. Another important measure is the control of undesirable range plants such as thorn scrub (Acacia spp.) and mesquite (Prosopis juliflora); methods which have been successful include burning under carefully controlled conditions, mechanical treatment, chemical applications, and biological methods. Examples of the latter include introduction of insects to attack cactus (Opuntia spp.) in Australia, South Africa, and Hawaii, and St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) in Australia and the United States.

Insect and rodent pests are important in some countries, and control may be essential if forest grazing areas are to be protected from serious damage. Locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, ants, rabbits, gophers, and mice have been brought under control by methods which have been developed after careful research.

Making undeveloped forests accessible: The considerable volumes of timber assessed at present as non-utilizable, because of physical or economic inaccessibility, could yield useful supplies to both local and foreign markets. Research is daily extending our knowledge of the properties of the wood of the species occurring in such forests, but this kind of research and testing needs to be expanded, whether carried out by governmental agencies or private industry. Armed with such information, trade promotion associations can do much to educate buyers and consumers to use hitherto little-known species. Standardization of nomenclature and descriptions, and adoption of uniform grading rules are other essential aids to successful promotional efforts.

Much interest is now being shown in a number of countries in the possibilities of the local resources for pulp and paper manufacture. Obviously, where the prospects are found to be economically sound, a demand for pulpwood for local manufacture into such high-value products as pulp and paper would mean a great deal in unlocking undeveloped forests. Proof that various species were suitable to make fiberboard or clipboard for housing and construction would also have a similar effect. As pointed out, the development of new wood-using industries of this sort must fit within the framework of the forest policy of the country.

The availability of the raw material can also be influenced greatly by modifying the physical accessibility of the resource. This involves mainly the development of road networks, preferably as-part of a general transport plan for opening-up areas not only to the extraction of forest products but also of other products such as minerals and in some circumstances farm products. In addition to road and also waterway development, the design and trial of mechanical equipment for logging warrants increasing attention, as is discussed in a subsequent paper. It is only necessary to point out here that manufacturers of such machinery need to be encouraged to develop really efficient equipment to meet special local conditions. Along with this, there is much to do in training forest workers and in improving their housing and living conditions, as already pointed out, so as to attract and hold the necessary manpower to open up new forest areas.

Improving management

The finest system of organizing forest land for continuous production is doomed to failure unless effort is also directed to the development of satisfactory techniques for the culture and protection of the crop. This problem will continue to demand the utmost in the skill, knowledge and imagination of foresters in finding the solutions for widely varying conditions. For much of the world's forest area is still without scientific management worthy of the name and even in areas advanced in forest production techniques, opportunities for further improvement are always present.

In Europe and those parts of Asia, for example, where the art of forest management has been long practiced the intensification of thinning practices, more satisfactory methods of reproduction, proper control to obtain desirable species mixtures, conversion of coppice to high forest, better soil management, and the use of better seed and stocks produced by selection and breeding are among the many devices promising to raise yields in substantial degree. In Denmark, for example, where yields have risen under the most intensive management and protection to 10 cubic meters per hectare, exclusive of heath and dune areas, it is estimated that over the next 25 years improved silvicultural practices may raise total yields as much as 50 percent more. Similarly, care in stocking ranges with only the number of animals compatible with the capacity of the land to feed them properly, the reseeding of inferior ranges to better grasses, eradication of poisonous and other undesirable vegetation, improved water facilities, use of fertilizers, rotation of grazing and fallow areas and similar practices promise to accomplish the same objective with range productiveness.

In those substantial areas of the world where silviculture and other forest management techniques are on the whole undeveloped or in early stages of formulation, improving forest management for increased productivity involves several related major problems. One important problem is how to bring about the conversion into productive forest of old growth forest in which the net increment of sound wood is very low or balanced by loss and decay. Such conversion with a minimum loss in time and productivity, without wasting the wood already produced under natural conditions, is one of the most difficult problems with which foresters are faced. A second is the rehabilitation, by improvement cuttings and similar means, of forests culled or cut-over in commercial logging operations with little or no attention to silvicultural requirements or future productivity. The desire for immediate profit, coupled with indifference as to the fate of cut-over land or ignorance as to its potential value in wood production, has turned millions of hectares of forests into areas of low productivity. A third is the working out of suit-able silvicultural practices for important forest types suitable for long term, sustained yield management including methods of harvest cutting to assure natural regeneration, and methods of clearing, weeding, pruning and thinning to improve rate of growth and quality. This requires considerable knowledge of environmental conditions and silvical characteristics of the principal tree species, including seeding habits, seed bed requirements, the factors affecting initial seedling survival and development, response to competition, hardiness and numerous other factors of this kind, plus the ability to synthesize available information into a workable silvicultural system.

Lack of knowledge is often the major bar to adequate progress in solving this and the preceding problems cited. Here properly conducted forest research offers a powerful tool and desirable short cut to the expensive and time-consuming trial and error methods of the past. It is for this reason that forest research has long been a prominent activity in many advanced countries as is shown in FAO's study Research in Forestry and Forest Products, 3 prepared in co-operation with the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, which lists the current work under way at leading institutions in member countries.

3 Research in Forestry and Forest Products, FAO Forestry and Forest Products Studies No. 9, Rome, 1953.

Obviously the development of sound practices will require the accumulation of knowledge over a wide field, and its interpretation and synthesis into practical cultural and harvesting methods. The available tools include careful observation and study of ecological factors, intelligent observation and interpretation of past and current practice, and research over a wide field aimed at filling gaps in available knowledge as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. This requires proper organization and working conditions and the existence of a suitable body of professionally trained men well based in the fundamental sciences, forest management techniques and research methods. Increasing attention must be given, therefore, to the creation and strengthening of schools at the professional, ranger and guard levels. Such professional aid and guidance is often made available through government agencies or in some cases by the bonding together of small owners, whose properties are not large enough to bear such expenses alone, into co-operatives.

Reducing waste

One of the most direct contributions to forest productivity can be brought about by reducing the losses in wood already produced. Much progress has already been made in reducing losses from fire, insects and disease, but by and large these agencies still take a toll from both forests and manufactured forest products that often exceeds the amounts used to satisfy human needs. Here again education, both public and professional, good organization and adequate knowledge intelligently and energetically applied are the keystones to satisfactory action. Much progress has been made in fire prevention and control, the fundamentals suitable for application on a world basis being summarized in FAO's study Elements of Forest Fire Control. 4 Careful studies of forest insects and fungi on a local or regional basis have laid the groundwork for reducing or controlling losses from these destructive agencies, and new chemicals and toxicants are furnishing effective assistance in this never ending struggle. Genetics and selection are also beginning to play a part in reducing such losses by the production and propagation of immune or resistant hybrids or strains.

4 Elements of Forest Fire Control, FAO Forestry and Forest Products Studies No. 6, Rome, 1953.

Similar opportunities for effectively increasing productivity by reducing or eliminating losses are common in forest utilization fields. Woods and milling operations are notoriously wasteful. Rarely less than 25 percent and too frequently 50 percent or more of the total forest crop is still lost in extraction and conversion operations. Here also research is basic to better practice and improvements in machines and tools; increased efficiency in harvesting and conversion operations; finding new outlets for wood fiber in pulp and paper products, fiberboards and chipboards; producing better preservatives and many other modern developments, discussed in more detail elsewhere, which offer promising tools for increasing productivity through waste reduction.


In addition to its fundamental protective functions, therefore, the forest serves an extremely important role as a producer of raw materials for industry and of consumer goods for direct use. Needs in forest products will certainly become greater, but competition between land uses is often severe as is also competition with substitute materials for wood and timber. Accordingly, if wood and timber are to play their proper part in the national economy, they must be of good quality and well adapted to industrial needs, as weld as being as cheap as possible. Land must be used efficiently. This can be realized only if long-term forest policies are sound - which are also a condition for building stable forest industries.

A sound forest policy must, therefore, aim at satisfying as far as possible the national wood requirements of the country and its industries with due consideration to internal and foreign trade. One basic principle should be the greatest good, to the greatest number of people, in the long run. Sound forest policy, therefore, will take into consideration domestic requirements for food, fuel and primary shelter as well as industry and trade, and the need of land for other essential purposes, especially food. Other important considerations include the stage of industrial development and resultant demands on the forest, land ownership patterns, established rights or customs affecting forests, forest accessibility physically and economically, forest labor supply, present and potential domestic and foreign markets, the need of forest land for recreation and education, the size of the existing and potential forest resource and its productiveness, the possibilities of improving this productiveness by expanding the area through planting, by improved management and reduction of losses and waste. It is in relation to such factors that forest policy must be designed and the role and place of forested areas in the general land economy determined. From the standpoint of the productive function of the forest, therefore, the Congress may wish to consider particularly:

1. What determines the real needs of a given country for forest products and services?

2. In the light of such needs and related social, economic and technical factors, how does one determine the forest area needed and its proper role in the general land economy and economic development of the country? How does such evaluation vary under different conditions and circumstances?

3. How can forest policy, once determined, be translated effectively into legislative, organizational and financial support for forest administration, research and education?

4. What methods of improving forest and forest range productivity are most promising and how can they be best adapted to meet the needs and possibilities of any given country?


The authorized English version, prepared by the Joint FAO/IUFRO Committee on Bibliography in collaboration with the Commonwealth Forestry Bureau, Oxford, England, has been recommended by the Conference of FAO and the Congress of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations for adoption in member countries. Published by the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux Central Sales Branch, Farnham Royal, England, on behalf of IUFRO.

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