Editorial: Forestry in the Near East: water scarcity and climate change must be addressed as priorities

Issa Al Shobaki, Chairperson, 21st Session Near East Forestry and Range Commission, Under Secretary General for Forests and Range, Ministry of Agriculture, Jordan

Our region faces many challenges, but in natural resource management the Near East Forestry and Range Commission’s recent session in Amman, Jordan, identified two of the most pressing: water scarcity and climate change. The scale of intervention may appear vast, but viable options exist. Through a shared understanding and vision of the role of forests and rangelands and the commitment of our members and partners, we can identify and implement sustainable solutions that could transform the food security and livelihoods of people in the region.

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The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was honoured to host the Twenty-first Session of the Near East Forestry and Range Commission (NEFRC) and the Third Near East Forestry Week (NEFW) in its capital Amman from 26 to 30 January 2014. We were delighted that the two events attracted around 260 representatives from 18 countries and several intergovernmental organizations, UN agencies, the private sector and NGOs from within Jordan and the region. I was also greatly honoured by the decision of the NEFRC member countries to entrust me with the chairmanship of NEFRC for the coming two years.

In his opening remarks, our Minister of Agriculture, His Excellency Akef Alzubi, reiterated our country’s appreciation of these honours and, on behalf of the Prime Minister of Jordan, His Excellency Elnsour, extended a very warm welcome to all participants who had travelled to attend these two major regional events.

The Near East is witnessing political, social, economic and institutional transformations, and in his opening remarks His Excellency the Minister emphasized that addressing two major issues - water scarcity and climate change – must be foremost in regional actions and that success would hinge on strong and coherent cooperation and collaboration between all major parties and partners. With this challenge before us, our discussions on increasing the visibility of dryland forestry and rangelands in the global and regional forestry agenda took on greater significance, particularly in the debates on the many ways in which forestry and rangelands can contribute to the green economy and regeneration in the region.

From our dialogues two key needs emerged: 1) to fully take into account the value of the goods and services provided by forests and rangelands ecosystems; and 2) to develop pertinent guidelines tailored to the context of the region. We, as members of the Commission, recommended that our countries and FAO work together to inform policy-makers about the importance of sustainable drylands, forests and rangelands and the variety of benefits to be gained for local people from their sustainable management and restoration. This should be done in order not only to raise awareness of these issues but also to elevate the profile of drylands in political agenda, at the national, regional and international levels, and to increase related, and necessary, responsible investments.

But there are also other important issues that need to be addressed. What needs to be done to facilitate cooperation in forest, range and climate change adaptation? Delegates made a clear call for FAO support in accessing climate change finance. In the areas of forestry training and research delegates noted a strong need for sustained assistance, particularly in physical restructuring and soft skills. Our region also has to deal with the impact of crises on sustainable forest and rangeland management.

The challenges our region faces are many, and our member countries look to the new FAO Strategic Framework as a means to enable us to meet them. It is for this reason that we have urged greater recognition of the role of forests and trees outside forests in resolving many developmental challenges, and we recommended that this be fully reflected in the implementation of the Organization’s new Strategic Objectives.

The message from the Commission on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was also clear: a strong preference for a standalone SDG on forests that would include rangelands, wildlife, trees outside forests and mountains. It requested FAO to support this proposal, and we hope that the Organization’s efforts in the various international fora will soon bear fruit.

Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to FAO for the excellent collaboration with the Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture in organizing this 21st NEFRC Session. I particularly wish to thank Assistant Director-General Eduardo Rojas-Briales and his team at FAO headquarters; Mr. Abdel Hamied Adam, Senior Forestry Officer for the Near East, and his team in the FAO Regional Office for the Near East in Cairo, Egypt, for their excellent work in organizing the NEFRC session. My thanks also go to the Regional Office for West Asia of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, for their outstanding organization of the 3rd NEFW.

View online FAO Forestry publications of interest to the region.

Installation of an irrigation network in a tree nursery, Yemen. ©FAO/Rosetta Messori

FAO Forestry news

Typhoon Haiyan and beyond: the role of trees and forests in rebuilding communities and strengthening their resilience 

Salvaging timber ©James BelgraveWhen Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines last November it left more than 7000 people dead and millions homeless, with forest-dependent communities among the worst affected. An expert, multidisciplinary FAO team has been assessing damage on the ground for short and long-term rehabilitation and resilience planning and programmes, including the critical contributions of trees and forests.


Read how Patrick Durst, Senior Forestry Officer in FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand, provided forestry sector support as part of FAO’s coordinated intervention.

In early November of last year, Typhoon Haiyan ripped across the central Philippines with wind speeds exceeding 300 kilometres per hour – the strongest ever recorded in a storm making landfall. The storm killed more than 7000 people and left millions homeless. Patrick had previously lived and worked in the Philippines for many years and since the typhoon has made several trips to the country, helping to assess the impacts of the storm on tree- and forest-dependent people, and make proposals on how forests and trees should contribute to FAO and partner efforts to rebuild shattered lives and strengthen communities’ resilience against future disasters.

With strong support from colleagues at the regional office in Bangkok as well as FAO Forestry colleagues at Headquarters, and even from retired forestry colleagues, advice was provided on approaches and techniques for salvaging millions of downed coconut trees to produce coco lumber for rebuilding houses and community buildings. This also included proposals on the legal and appropriate options for using wood for building boats, which local people rely on for fishing and public transport. This was an important aspect as wood is a major link in the social and economic ties that bind the livelihoods of the forest and fisheries communities; without it people would be pushed further into poverty.

The FAO team has also supported the formulation of proposals for the rehabilitation of mangrove and coastal beach forests and upland agroforestry. Mangroves are particularly important as a natural defence against erosion of coastal areas and storm surges, habitat and breeding areas for fish, and as the source of a wide array of products and edible plants and animals used or consumed by local people.

Coconut-based farming systems have traditionally been the backbone of the rural economy in hundreds of upland communities devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. FAO has formulated several proposals that will support agroforestry intercropping of newly replanted coconuts with fruit, nut, forage and timber trees and quick-yielding food crops. This is to assist the recovery of the coconut-producing communities and is therefore a crucial strategy for bridging the five to seven years before newly planted coconuts reach full production levels. The diverse inter-crops, and the livelihood opportunities they support, are also a key component of the strategy to “build back better” in typhoon-affected areas and build resilience against future adversities.

In addition, FAO has convened in Baybay, Leyte, jointly with the Philippine Coconut Authority of the Department of Agriculture, a technical workshop to further elaborate strategies and coordinate efforts in coconut recovery. A national consultant on coconut farming systems has been hired to provide ongoing specialized technical advice and support.

FAO also co-leads, with the World Food Programme, the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster, which was established to coordinate the relief efforts – including those in forestry and fisheries – of international organizations with relevant government agencies.

The depth of FAO’s technical expertise has been highly appreciated by the Philippines’ and donor governments as well as international relief organizations. Thanks to FAO’s technical sector experts with their specialized knowledge and expertise drawn from strong regional and global support hubs, and who can be mobilized quickly, our damage assessment and subsequent actions in rehabilitation and resilience have been prompt, focused and oriented towards the practical needs of the local communities. This comparative advantage of FAO also extended to the provision of technical advice and guidance in forestry and natural resources to the multitude of international organizations, IGOs, NGOs and other entities involved in the relief efforts.

Desperately tragic as the situation is for the people and economies of the central Philippines and the country as a whole, Typhoon Haiyan has served as a further lesson, one that FAO is increasingly mindful of, that in post-emergency interventions support to countries should include experts who are not only qualified in their respective fields but who also have good knowledge of the local culture, people, ecological conditions, language and traditions. In this way, the long-term impact of the generous support provided will be far more coherent, meaningful and useful to the people whose lives we are helping to rebuild.

View the photo gallery showing how coco plantations are being re-established and coco timber is being used to reconstruct communities.

Read the news item released by IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Read more on FAO’s work on the Philippines emergency

Steering Committee reviews agenda for next session of FAO’s highest-level forestry body

The Steering Committee of the Committee on Forestry (COFO), comprising representatives of FAO’s six regional forestry commissions, met in Amman, Jordan, after the 21st Near East Forestry and Range Commission session, to align the Commissions’ recommendations with the first draft agenda of COFO’s 22nd Session. COFO 22, together with the 4th World Forest Week, will take place at FAO headquarters this June.

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The newly composed Steering Committee met for the first time following the election of officers at sessions of the regional forestry commissions (RFCs) held between September 2013 and January 2014.

The Committee reviewed briefly the rich outcomes of the RFC sessions, three of which had been held with parallel forest weeks (Africa, Europe and the Near East) and attracted considerable professional and media interest. The Committee was also briefed on progress in implementing the decisions of various FAO governing bodies, and noted the results of the strategic planning process and the preparations for the FAO Programme of Work and Budget for the 2014–15 biennium.

Implementation of the FAO Strategic Framework was acknowledged as a learning process that required due attention. Careful vigilance is required to ensure a holistic approach to including forestry issues in all Strategic Objectives. Action on forest issues and ensuring that a holistic approach to forestry transcends all Strategic Objectives would also require careful vigilance. The Committee also encouraged initiatives that would support cross-sectoral collaboration within FAO and suggested that coherent messages be developed by the various governing bodies. Of equal importance was the need for the RFCs to make clear recommendations to the FAO Regional Conferences and to promote these actively through collaboration in and contribution to the sessions.

The Committee was unanimous in agreeing that COFO 22 should focus on the socio-economic impacts of sustainable forest management (SFM) and that thematic discussions should be centred around the key issues and findings presented in the 2014 edition of the State of the World’s Forests. It specifically suggested that the core of the COFO 22 agenda be developed around four major thematic areas: SFM’s role in meeting global socio-economic challenges; its contributions to global processes and initiatives; implementation of the FAO forestry programme – progress and further guidance; and programme priorities for FAO in forestry. It also agreed that, following the positive experience of the past three COFO sessions, COFO 22 should be organized in conjunction with the World Forest Week.

The COFO secretariat was invited to ensure that the agenda and thematic structure of COFO 22 are officially announced by 23 March 2014.

Cross-sectoral partnering on tenure in Sierra Leone

The German Government is supporting Sierra Leone in translating the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests into sustainable action, by funding a multi-stakeholder capacity-building project. Technical and policy support is central to FAO’s first cross-sectoral project since the Guidelines were endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012. Read more on FAO's forest tenure-related work.

Global news

New York sustainable development meetings: game-changers for forests and mountains?

New York was the venue for a recent series of high-level meetings of potential significance for the future of forests and mountains. FAO was represented most recently at the 8th session of the Open Working Group and contributed to several events, the outcomes of which will feed into the consultations for defining the post-2015 sustainable development goals.  View FAO’s e-bulletin on the post-2015 process.

Read about FAO’s involvement in the New York meetings.

Forests in the post-2015 sustainable development landscape

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG-SDGs) held its 8th session in February 2014 at UN Headquarters in New York. FAO Forestry Assistant Director-General, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, made a statement in the OWG-SDG plenary on behalf of FAO and the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), addressing the importance of including concrete targets and indicators on forests and mountains.  

The two co-chairs of the OWG have drafted a first document on the SDG ‘focus areas’ on the basis of eight intergovernmental consultations, culminating with OWG-8. The 9th session considered this output during its recent meeting from 3–5 March 2014 in New York. In the ‘focus areas’ document, forests are already included under ecosystems and biodiversity.

Advocating for mountains in the post-2015 development agenda

Mountain countries, supported by FAO and the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS), confirmed their determination to integrate mountain ecosystems in the new sustainable development goals during the 8th session of the UN Open Working Group in New York in early February 2014. Bhutan, Peru and Romania were three of many countries at two FAO-MPS events that said the time had come for mountain-related targets.Read about the New York mountain-related events here.

Collaborative Partnership on Forests supports development goal aims

On Monday, 3 February, FAO, in collaboration with the CPF and the Government of Finland, held a side event and informal meetings on the fringes of the OWG-8 session to determine the potential for including forests in the post-2015 development agenda. Former President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana and President of the International Family Forestry Alliance, Mr. Peter De Marsh, were present to offer possibilities for including forest issues in the SDGs. Read the statement of Eduardo Rojas Briales.

In addition, the CPF held a regular meeting on 5 February, to further discuss a CPF draft paper on possible forest targets and indicators, which was finalized by the CPF in late February and distributed at the UN Forum on Forests’ recent Ad Hoc Expert Group meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on the International Arrangement on Forests review. In addition, the CPF considered its regular business, including CPF’s potential contributions to the upcoming FAO Committee on Forestry meeting and the IUFRO World Congress, as well as IUFRO’s proposed ‘Policy Learning Platforms’.

Save the Date! XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban, South Africa, 7–11 September 2015

The XIV World Forestry Congress organizers invite you to join them at this major international gathering that seeks to chart a visionary, people-focused course for 21st century global forestry. Forests and people: investing in a sustainable future is the theme that will frame and shape the week-long multi-media events and connect participants through numerous interactive dialogues and debates. Read more about the XIV World Forestry Congress to be held in Durban, South Africa, 7–11 September 2015

Understanding forests and trees’ primary and protective role in the water-food security nexus

The High-Level Panel of Experts of the Committee on World Food Security has been tasked with preparing a report on water and food security for submission to the Committee’s 42nd Session in 2015. An e-consultation to shape the report’s scope and structure has received many contributions, including one from FAO Forestry's Watershed and Mountain team on the primary and protective role of forests and trees. Read the Watershed and Mountain team's HLPE contribution here.

Celebration of 1st World Wildlife Day

The Collaborative Partnership on Sustainable Wildlife Management is a voluntary partnership of international organizations with substantive mandates and programmes for the sustainable use and conservation of wildlife resources. On the 1st World Wildlife Day 2014 the Partnership issued a call for international efforts to support action on sustainable wildlife management and related human well-being. Read the Partnership’s message here

1st World Wildlife Day sees launch of human-wildlife conflict management centre in Zimbabwe

Africa is witnessing demographic expansions with resulting encroachments into wildlife habitats and a rising number of human-wildlife conflicts (HWC). Dramatic trends in criminal hunting and trade are also threatening many wildlife species to the verge of extinction. Zimbabwe has taken steps to counter these phenomena by setting up a HWC management centre in the Mukuvisi woodlands of Zimbabwe.

Read more about the centre established by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, CAMPFIRE, and BIO-HUB Trust, with technical and financial support from FAO. Visit the FAO human-wildlife conflict webpage for more information on WWD activities and view some images from celebrations in Africa

Greater cross-sectoral integration needed to meet ecosystem restoration targets 

Greater integration between the forestry, agriculture and rangeland sectors would increase West Asian and North African countries’ capacity to meet ecosystem conservation and restoration targets, stated participants at the Aichi Biodiversity Target Workshop organized by CBD with FAO financial and technical support. International dialogues on forest and landscape restoration must also extend beyond biodiversity and protected areas, FAO and CBD suggested.

Read more about the Convention on Biodiversity Aichi Biodiversity Target Workshop, Amman, Jordan, held back-to-back with the 21st Session of the Near East Forestry and Range Commission.

REDD+ promotes scaling up in sustainable forest management

The challenges in scaling up implementation of sustainable forest management (SFM) within REDD+ at all levels and in all forest types were reviewed at a Japan/FAO/UN-REDD international seminar in Tokyo. Participants from mainly African and Asian countries learned of experiences, best practices and tools that could increase national capacity in SFM while contributing to the five REDD+ activities. Read more about the Tokyo international seminar on REDD+ implementation and sustainable forest management.

Upcoming meetings and events

International Days

International Day of Forests - 21 March 2014

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests (IDF) to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each IDF, countries are encouraged to organize local, national and international events involving forests and trees, such as tree-planting campaigns or educational activities. Click to read the UN Resolution

FAO will be marking this year’s celebration with a presentation of the results of FAO’s global remote sensing survey of forests and highlights of FAO’s work on forest monitoring. The event will be webcast. Please consult the FAO International Day of Forests website on 21 March at this webcast link to follow the proceedings.

Other events

Collaborative Partnership on Forestsevents calendar, including:

New publications and videos


Unasylva reader survey

Unasylva is the FAO's journal of forestry and forest industries. FAO wants to ensure that it continues to be an effective medium for articulating the ideas, practicalities and challenges of sustainable forest management. You can help by participating in a short (5–10 minute) Web-based survey. FAO will use your responses to improve Unasylva and increase its impact in the development of effective forest policy and practice. You can find a link to the Unasylva survey here


International Day of Forests - 21 March 2014

Forests and trees sustain and protect us, providing clean air and water, safeguarding biodiversity and acting as a buffer against climate change. For many people, they also offer food, shelter and employment. It is up to us in turn to sustain and protect our forests -- our future is at stake. Join FAO in celebrating the International Day of Forests on 21 March.

View the International Day of Forests video in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian, German and Italian on the International Day of Forests website.

Unasylva: a stroll down memory lane

In this series, we feature extracts from early editions of Unasylva, FAO Forestry’s international journal of forestry and forest industries.

Forest history of the Near East

Unasylva, 17(68), 1963

Knowledge of the natural forest conditions which existed in the historic past, and of the manner of their evolution up to the present day, are essential requirements for a proper understanding of the present situation and for the framing of corrective national land and forestry policies and programs.

The peoples of the Near East are beginning to recognize that improvement in their economic and social conditions can be brought about through forestry, and governments are initiating positive scientific thinking to attain betterment of environment and general well-being. The urgent need for afforestation and for the improved management of the remaining forest areas is evident.

Constructive forestry programs will slowly but surely reverse the trend of uncontrolled destruction and re-establish a forest heritage for future generations, thereby providing incalculable benefit to the social and economic order of the Near East.

Karl Oedekoven, FAO Regional Forestry Officer for the Near East, FAO Regional Office for the Near East Cairo, Egypt, 1963

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last updated:  Monday, May 12, 2014