Editorial: Strengthening the agricultural sectors through greater integration 

Maria Helena Semedo 

The role of trees in food security is often underestimated. As former Minister Coordinator of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel and now FAO’s Deputy Director-General, Coordinator for Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo explains why intersectoral action, with forestry as an integral part, should be the basis for improving agricultural and food systems.

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The world’s food and feed systems are dependent on the agricultural sectors – crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. Any weaknesses, failings or successes will thus have a direct impact on global food security.

As the demand for food increases, calls for nations to be innovative and to re-orient policies, technologies and practices with the ambition to produce sustainably become louder. This has brought into sharp focus natural resource management and specifically the better management of land, water, biodiversity and forests to increase productivity (i.e to produce more with less, as in the FAO publication Save and Grow). In response FAO has internally re-oriented and brought together agriculture, forestry, livestock and fisheries under one umbrella of natural resource management coordination with the aim to guarantee food and fibre, not only for current but also for future generations. The new agricultural paradigm is articulated in FAO’s Strategic Objective 2 “Make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable”.

Historically, competing demands within the agricultural sectors (crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry) for land, water and funding have prevented them from realizing their full potential and contributing fully to the sustainability agenda. By increasing intersectoral integration and synergies and ensuring complementarities among the agricultural sectors, we will secure the building blocks for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals beyond 2015. In our new orientation, which I am privileged to head, we are working towards maximizing synergies and minimizing competition within the sectors. We are establishing a more robust coordination mechanism under the goal of sustainable natural resource management.

Forestry in FAO’s new strategic framework

Forestry is a critical part of this new vision. I consider the foundations laid within sustainable forest management to be an important pillar: without sustainably managed forests, we will be unable to achieve long-term food security.

Why experiences from the field are so important

Prior to taking up the position of Deputy Director-General, Coordinator for Natural Resources, I headed FAO’s Regional Office for Africa in Ghana, and this was preceded by several other assignments in Africa. I have seen the value of trees in ecosystems and food security, and the negative consequences when they are neglected. Forest cover in some African countries has declined by nearly 75 million ha from 1990 to 2010, with some - often disastrous - consequences for long-term food security. The countries cannot afford this; the world cannot afford this.

However, I don’t want to sound alarmist about the state of the world’s forests. Much progress has been made by countries and continues to be made through sustainable forest management and increase in investment in the forest sector. FAO remains committed to working in partnership with countries, communities and local and international stakeholders to increase momentum for success and positive results. FAO is well-placed, therefore, to work with all parties in furthering sustainable forest management.

I look forward to working with all FAO’s technical units and external partners to improve intersectoral integration and synergies among the agricultural sectors. I therefore welcome the recommendation of the 19th Session of the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission, held last month in Namibia, for the establishment of a Sustainable Development Goal for forestry. Such a goal will further encourage the global quest to ensure the welfare of a precious and essential resource: the world’s forests.

Panoramic view of the lowland of Tibiri, Niger ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

FAO Forestry news

Asia-Pacific’s forest wealth: the path to greater regional prosperity

Jarred Mair, Chair of the 25th Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission Rotorua, New Zealand, and Director, Sector Policy, Ministry of Primary Industries of New Zealand

In these times of change, it is crucial that we maximize the contributions that forests make to human well-being and step up efforts to ensure that the public understands these contributions. Under the theme of Forests for Prosperity, the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission has mapped out collaborative approaches for better capturing the benefits that the region’s forests can provide.

New Zealand proudly hosted the 25th Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) from 5 to 8 November, in Rotorua – the heartland of forestry in our country. We were pleased to welcome more than 200 delegates and representatives from 28 APFC member countries, UN agencies and civil-society organizations. This was the second time that New Zealand had hosted the Commission – the first being nearly half a century ago, in 1964.

We were further pleased to see FAO and various partners collaborate in organizing eight pre-APFC workshops on timely subjects of concern to the forest sector, including: forest restoration; gender mainstreaming in forest policies; forestry strategic planning; REDD+; forestry education; sustainable forest management in Pacific Island countries; forests and natural disasters; and combating invasive alien species in forests.

Forests feature prominently in the lives of people across all walks of life but, unfortunately, their importance is not always recognised or fully appreciated. As an essential raw material, timber is an integral part of and has helped improve the lives of nearly everyone. It has helped shape the development of buildings, communication and energy infrastructure, railroads and ships. At a more basic level, forests are a source of food and fuelwood for many millions of people.

But forests also give us much more. Their role in supplying clean and reliable water, holding precious topsoil in place, providing habitat for most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and locking up vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are critical for human prosperity. The enormous cultural and recreational values of forests and their contributions as landscapes for tourism and to spiritual well-being are also of great human consequence.

The importance of these benefits was highlighted by New Zealand’s Associate Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon. Jo Goodhew, in her keynote address at the APFC opening. Minister Goodhew outlined the ambitious objective of New Zealand’s private sector to double the value of forest product exports within the next decade, along with the Government’s commitment to provide an enabling environment for industry, expanding markets and maintaining the ecological benefits of forests while expanding the use of wood in post-disaster reconstruction.

It is our job as forest managers to maximize the benefits of forests for all people in society. The 25th APFC session took on this challenge by considering how to attract more financing for the forest sector and how such financing could be put to better use; how growing recognition of the roles of forests in climate-change mitigation and adaptation might be translated into increased prosperity; how we can build greater resilience in forests, landscapes and communities; how more secure tenure and access rights can enhance productivity and sustainability in the forest sector; and to increase appreciation for the contributions of forests to food security and nutrition.

A special dialogue among the APFC heads of forestry focused on policies to support wood-processing development. The Commission also considered approaches for addressing evolving legality requirements within forest law enforcement, governance and trade (FLEGT) frameworks, with expectations of enhancing market access and ensuring sustainability. Finally, various tools for sustainable forest management were considered and recommendations made for their further development.

The APFC recommended that its member countries work more closely with FAO on forest landscape restoration, building resilience to climate change and natural disasters, improving forest monitoring and assessment, strengthening forest policies and tenure arrangements, mainstreaming gender into forest policies, expanding FLEGT and REDD+ initiatives, improving the understanding of forests’ contributions to food security, increasing funding for forestry, and strengthening regional cooperation on fire-related activities. The Commission also recommended the development of a stand-alone sustainable development goal (SDG) on forests and urged its members to engage actively in the discussions on development of the SDGs.

The Commission also requested FAO to give serious attention to the conclusions and recommendations of our 25th session, in particular at the next Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, to be held in Mongolia in March 2014, and at the 22nd Session of the Committee on Forestry next June.

The Commission proposed three topics for the agenda of the 22nd session of COFO: (i) the importance of forestry in combating climate change and land degradation; (ii) payments for ecosystem services; and (iii) forest financing.

It is my privilege to serve APFC members as Chair of the Commission for the next two years, and I look forward to working with them and the APFC Secretariat to advance work on the recommendations collectively made in Rotorua. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to FAO for the excellent collaboration with the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries in successfully organizing the 25th APFC session. I particularly wish to thank Assistant Director-General Eduardo Rojas-Briales and his team at FAO headquarters; Mr. Patrick Durst, FAO Senior Forestry Officer for Asia and the Pacific, and APFC Secretary, and his team in the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok; and Mr. Aru Mathias in the FAO Subregional Office for the Pacific in Samoa, for their excellent work in organizing the APFC session in New Zealand.

Read the Jakarta Post interview with Patrick Durst, APFC Secretary.

Forestry’s greatest challenges

Moujahed Achouri, Director, Land and Water Division, Natural Resources Department

The world faces many social, economic and environmental challenges. Forests and trees outside forests have enormous potential to help meet these challenges, although in many places they, too, are under stress. In this section of inFO news, we ask foresters who have recently been appointed to senior FAO positions to set out what they see as forestry’s greatest challenges and opportunities. 

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I am honoured to introduce myself to the readers of inFo news and to share with you my thoughts on some of the challenges and opportunities that forestry has to confront.

After three years in Cairo as FAO Deputy Regional Representative for the Near East and FAO Representative in Egypt, I recently returned to FAO headquarters to take up the position of Director of the Land and Water Division. This followed three years with the FAO Forestry Department as Chief Technical Advisor for field project implementation in Pakistan and a four-year stint as Chief of the Forestry Conservation Service.

I believe that, in most developing countries, natural resource degradation is the greatest constraint to sustainable agricultural development. It is also my view that new or better-managed forests and trees outside forests could make significant economic, social and environmental contributions to communities in the regions I know best, North Africa and the Middle East. In fact, the ecosystem services rendered by forests and arid-zone forests and rangelands have a critical role in maintaining ecosystem health, ensuring food security and fighting poverty.

It is still not well understood among policymakers and the general public that sustainably managed forest and range ecosystems, with their wealth of biodiversity, also conserve increasingly scarce water resources and degraded soils. North Africa and the Middle East are the most environmentally challenged in the world, with over 91% of total land area at risk of desertification. Unless the sustainable management of forests and rangelands is given the serious attention it deserves, the negative effects of climate change will exacerbate desertification and drought, resulting in even greater economic hardship and ecological degradation.

Sustainable land management, achieved with the direct participation of local people, is at the heart of solutions to these problems. Suitable policies and support for training and skill upgrading, coupled with appropriate technologies, are critical, but they need greater attention from and commitment by decision-makers and to be underpinned by better governance.

What can and should FAO do? My previous assignments taught me the importance of establishing and developing broad collaborative working relationships, both within FAO and with external partners, in forest-related projects and programmes. The Organization’s new Strategic Framework provides us with an exciting opportunity to meet integrated land management challenges around the world in meaningful and sustainable ways. Specifically, we now have an appropriate means by which to strengthen interaction, collaboration and synergy between relevant units and programmes in FAO, such as the Land and Water Division and the Forestry Department.

FAO, with partner collaboration, can assist its members to put innovative technologies and management approaches into practice. This is crucial for raising food production and productivity because these technologies and approaches provide the necessary basis for the better integration and sustainable use, conservation and management of land resources. Programmes that recognize upland–lowland relationships, livelihood improvement and payment for environmental services, and which engage local people in decisions on the sustainable use of their natural resources, will lead to increased food security and strengthened resilience.

I look forward to working with colleagues in the Forestry Department and other departments in FAO, and with external partners, to ensure that FAO’s projects and programmes lead to sustainable outcomes in land and water management.

Guinea: Fouta Djallon Highlands Project, ©FAO/Paolo Ceci 

African countries agree to curb illegal timber trade in the Congo Basin 

The governments of Central Africa's main timber-producing countries, together with timber industry representatives and civil-society organizations, have adopted the Brazzaville Declaration, agreeing to jointly combat illegal timber trade in the Congo Basin. The agreement was sealed at an international wood industry forum co-organized by FAO in Brazzaville in October. Read more

Sustainable investment roadmap and action plan for Russian Federation’s Far East forests

FAO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have designed an “investment roadmap and action plan for sustainable forest-based industries” for the Russian Federation’s Far East region. The initiative features innovations in the efficient use of forest residues and new technologies for producing value-added wood products, and will have local and global benefits Read more

Electronic forum facilitates regional agro-environmental policy-making

An online forum on agro-environmental policies in Latin America and the Caribbean in October engaged 50 professionals from ten countries in exchanges of knowledge, experiences and lessons learned. Recommendations on governance and institutional arrangements drawn from case studies in five countries will feed into the final regional workshop in Brazil in December. Read more (Spanish)

Unasylva reader survey

We believe that Unasylva plays an important role in articulating the ideas, practicalities and challenges of sustainable forest management, but we want to know what you think. You can tell us by participating in a short (5–10 minute) web-based survey. We will use your responses to improve Unasylva and increase its impact in the development of effective forest policy and practice. Take the survey here

Assessment of the European Forest Sector Outlook Study II 2010–2030

The UNECE/FAO Forestry and Timber Section invites you to participate in the assessment of the European Forest Sector Outlook Study II (EFSOS II), which was published in 2011. Access the study here

Global news

United Nations New York, USA – Expo 2015 and the post-2015 agenda

Eduardo Rojas participated in high-level discussions at UN headquarters on developing key UN messages for Expo 2015 and the UN Expo theme, focusing on the “Zero Hunger Challenge” and how to generate greater public visibility and momentum for this initiative. He also discussed increasing the recognition of UN work through Expo 2015 and on the role of forests and mountains in the post-2015 agenda. Read more about Expo 2015 discussions here and the UN ECOSOC post-2015 agenda here.

Read about the signing ceremony for the United Nations-Expo 2015 Agreement held at FAO Headquarters in Rome on 14 November here.

From left to right: Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Emma Bonino, José Graziano da Silva, Giuseppe Sala, Kanayo F. Nwanze, Claudia von Roehl 

Oslo, Norway – REDD Exchange 2013 during 5th anniversary celebrations of UN-REDD

In Oslo, Eduardo Rojas participated in a meeting of stakeholders to review the first five years of UN-REDD; attended a Strategic Group Meeting featuring Norway’s Deputy Minister for Climate Change to discuss the UN-REDD post-2015 agenda and strategy; and met with the UN-REDD Secretariat on the potential for stronger UN-REDD–FLEGT cooperation and UN-REDD’s presence at Expo 2015. Read more about the REDD Exchange 2013 here.

UN allies with world’s youth to create greater understanding of forests 

Helping young people to understand, respect and be inspired by forests and to recognize their benefits is the aim of the Forests challenge badge published by the Youth and United Nations Global Alliance. Financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation, the booklet carries a joint foreword by the heads of FAO Forestry and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Read the Forests challenge badge

Maintaining momentum in financing sustainable forest management

The 2nd Expert Meeting on Strengthening Finance for Sustainable Forest Management through National Forest Funds, held in Indonesia, in October, attracted participants from nine countries in Asia and the Pacific. Jointly convened by CIFOR, FAO and GIZ, the meeting identified potential strategies for improving the financial governance and architecture of 12 national forest financing mechanisms. Read more

Another step towards an agreement on forests in Europe

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Legally Binding Agreement on Forests in Europe was hosted by Poland and Switzerland in June and November respectively, with agreement on core text on sustainable forest management. Following further review by the Committee, the text will be referred to an Extraordinary FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conference for further guidance.  Read more

Upcoming meetings and events

Collaborative Partnership on Forestsevents calendar, including:

International Institute for Sustainable Development calendar

New publications and videos



Road to legality – EU FAO FLEGT Programme, English, French and Spanish

This film explores the implementation of the FLEGT Action Plan along the timber supply chain – from harvest in the rainforests of the Congo Basin to consumption in the European Union. Through Voluntary Partnership Agreements with the EU, timber-producing countries commit to assuring the legality of their timber. Cameroon is in the process of turning its stated commitment into effective action. 

National forest inventory in Peru

Peru’s Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, with financial support from the Government of Finland and FAO technical assistance, have launched the National Forest Inventory (NFI) and Sustainable Forest Management in a Changing Climate programme. A new video shows how the NFI is collecting and analysing information on Peru’s forests to support policy formulation and decision-making.  View the video (Spanish)

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.

Green Gold

The title of a new documentary film about forests and timber, shortly to be released in theaters throughout the world. Produced for the United Nations by Svensk Filmindustri, the film emphasizes that the nations of the world must work together to ensure that their forests are perpetuated and used for the good of all.

"Yes, timber is green gold," the film says, "but the forest is not a gold mine to be ruthlessly exploited." It may take 70 years to grow a tree, but only 70 seconds to cut it down; and, when the forests are destroyed, nature strikes back. Disaster may begin with a storm raging over farms and fields unprotected by forests. The water splashing unhindered over the land washes away the rich topsoil, and the angry rivers swell and flood their banks. In a very short time, once prosperous farms disappear, and their owners face ruin.

The forests of the world must be preserved if only because they are the guardians of soil and water. They protect the land against soil erosion, create great water reserves, influence the climate, and sometimes even supply the farmer with the very soil on which he grows his crops. The tie between the forests and the farms is made stronger, because in most countries the farmer depends on the forest lands for his house, his barns, his fuel, and his fences, and he is the man who must do most to preserve them.

Unasylva 3(5) 1949

More reading: Malagnoux, M., Sène, E.H. & Atzmon, N. 2007. Forests, trees and waters in arid lands: a delicate balance. Unasylva, 58(239):24–29.

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last updated:  Friday, December 20, 2013