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Press Release 97/43


Antalya, October 13 - With deforestation continuing and burning forests polluting the air in many parts of Southeast Asia, the eleventh World Forestry Congress opened tonight in this Mediterranean Turkish city, focusing on the theme: Forestry for Sustainable Development: Towards the 21st Century.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel delivered the inaugural speech and welcomed ministers and other government representatives from more than 70 countries attending an informal Ministerial meeting in parallel with the World Forestry Congress.

The ten-day Congress brings together some 3,000 delegates from about 120 countries including ministers, field technicians, scientists and forestry specialists, as well as representatives from non-governmental organizations and the private sector. The Congress will take up a wide spectrum of issues related to forests and forestry issues grouped around seven major topics.

Addressing the opening session, Dr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told delegates that while forests and foresters cannot single-handedly resolve the food security problem, "trees, forests and forestry do have a fundamental contribution to make towards the achievement of world food security."

"First, trees and forests produce food directly. In some areas they are a primary source of food; almost everywhere they provide a regular supplement to the diet. Foods from the forest are consumed when cultivated supplies are in short supply, such as between harvest seasons, or during emergencies, such as famines and wars," Dr. Diouf said. "Beyond the direct contribution of food, trees and forests play a critical role in ensuring sustained agricultural production, including animal husbandry and, in some cases, fisheries." In coastal mangrove ecosystems trees play a role in supporting fisheries.

Dr. Diouf noted that apart from being a source of food and fuel, "forest-based activities also provide substantial employment and cash income." According to FAO estimates, "the annual value of fuelwood and wood-based forest products to the global economy was more than $400 billion, or about 2 percent of gross domestic product. If the value of non-wood forest products were to be added, this figure would be swelled considerably."

Although agriculture and forestry have often been viewed as being in opposition, Dr. Diouf said that view was based on the false assumption that "forestry is concerned only with managing forests for wood production, and that agriculture only involves growing crops in open fields. Forestry and agriculture are often mutually beneficial and even interdependent".

While acknowledging that deforestation is often caused by the conversion of forest land to agricultural production, Dr. Diouf said: "A reduction in the destruction of forests as a source of physical access to land could only be achieved by an increase in the sustainable and economically viable use of forest resources, intensified agricultural production on already cleared lands and a closer harmony between forestry and other forms of land use."

Dr. Diouf said that in 1996, the FAO Field Forestry Programme consisted of 179 projects with an annual expenditure of $60 million. FAO's major roles in the forestry sector were to act as a forum for policy dialogue among governments and representatives of international and non-governmental organizations as well as to assist countries in the preparation and implementation of national forestry programmes and to provide up-to-date information and statistics on forest resources.

The World Forestry Congress, which was last held in Paris in 1992, is being hosted by the Government of Turkey with FAO support. At the end of the Congress, delegates are expected to adopt a Declaration which it is hoped will help to reinforce international commitment to global forest issues and in particular to encourage international investment in forests as a basic global resource.

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