Editorial: 300 years of sustainable forestry

Celebrations are being held this year to mark 300 years since a German administrator became the first person to define the concept of sustainability. Hans von Carlowitz is being honoured for his seminal work, Sylvicultura oeconomica, which is generally accepted as the first publication to articulate the concept of forest sustainability and which later in the eighteenth century marked the conceptual starting point and framework for forest science.
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Carlowitz, a senior government mining officer in the German state of Saxony, faced a pressing practical challenge: how to ensure the reliable supply of wood for the mines he was managing. Instead of expanding the supply areas of firewood, which would have involved devastating forest clearance, he instead proposed the sustainable management of forests without exhausting the resources. Although references to similar approaches in sustainability can be found in other countries and eras, Carlowitz was a pioneer in successfully conceptualizing the practice as a science – he laid the seed that was to grow into a global model of forest practices.

In the decades that followed, forest inventory and management planning were developed with the aim of ensuring an equilibrium between growth and harvesting – matching the annual growth of trees in a given forested area with the maximum volume that could be harvested annually. This fundamental principle meant that the forest’s capacity for renewal was never exceeded and, for the first time, that forest use could be sustainable.

Sustainability was also to become an integral part of the European Age of Enlightenment, a period in which many other key social constructs were defined. At its core, sustainability calls for the maintenance of natural capital and of the options available to future generations for its use. Conservation is entrusted to the present generation, who as temporary custodians should use no more than the “interest” that accrues from the growth of the natural capital.

The forestry community has long adhered to sustainability as a fundamental principle of natural resource management. But it was not until the issuance of the Brundtland Report in 1987 that the concept became more widely known and commonly understood. The definition of sustainability has also been the subject of debate over the years, due to the more limited translation in English of “sustained yield” against the German Nachhaltigkeit or durabilité in French. In these two languages, there is no difference between the original definition of forest sustainability and the modern one.

Forestry should be proud not only of being the first discipline to define the principle of sustainability, but also to have applied it over such a long period. The global expansion and acceptance of the principle has followed the evolution of professional and science-based forest management, and the accumulated know-how of forestry is central to attempts to broaden the application of the principle to many other fields.

The integration of the three pillars of sustainable development – environmental, economic and social sustainability – has always been the distinguishing feature of multifunctional forest management. Thus, the celebration in 2013 of 300 years since von Carlowitz published Sylvicultura oeconomica provides an opportunity for the global forest community to recall the forest origins of sustainability and to share with others its cultural legacy.

As a contribution to the 300-year celebration, FAO Forestry has designed a logo which can be used as an email footer, and I encourage you to use it in your own emails as a way of communicating to the world one of the forestry profession’s great contributions to the global quest for sustainable development. We have also produced a special edition of our forestry journal, Unasylva, to mark the occasion.

Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director-General, Forestry Department, FAO


Forestry news

38th Session of the FAO Conference and 147th Session of the FAO Council

FAO’s two highest governing bodies met in June to discuss a wide range of issues, some of them important for forestry.

Conference recognizes important role of forests

In endorsing the report of the Committee on Forestry, the Conference emphasized forestry’s cross-sectoral nature, with an invitation to FAO to continue supporting synergies within and outside the forest sector. The Conference also recognized the important role of forests in FAO's mandate and suggested that this could be reflected and supported by adequate resources for the Forestry programme.

International year and day of forests acknowledged

The Conference recognized the achievements of the International Year of Forests (2011) and the active role of countries and FAO. FAO was also requested to facilitate implementation of the International Day of Forests on 21 March, as called for by the UN General Assembly.

Recognition for excellence in forestry

FAO Senior Forestry Officer Patrick Durst was one of 3 people presented with the B.R. Sen Award during the FAO Conference in June. The B.R. Sen Award honours FAO officers who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of their countries of assignment. Patrick was commended for his leadership and achievements in the Asia–Pacific region during 19 years of dedicated service. Read more

Efforts to develop sustainable alternatives to destructive forest use in the Mau Forest complex earned the Kenya Forest Service the Edouard Saouma Award, also presented at the FAO Conference in June. The Service was commended for having implemented “with particular efficiency” a project funded by FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme. Read more

Conference adopts forest genetic resources global plan of action

The Conference also adopted the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation, Sustainable Use and Development of Forest Genetic Resources, the first of its kind for the forestry sector. The Global Plan was prepared based on needs and priorities for action identified in regional consultations and country reports for the State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources, which will be released by FAO in late 2013. Read more

A new tree in the woods – welcome to GlobAllomeTree!

FAO and partners have launched a web-based platform to help forest and climate change projects, researchers and managers calculate forest volume, biomass and forest carbon. GlobAllomeTree, the first international, peer-reviewed platform for tree allometric equations, currently has equations for 57 countries worldwide, from boreal forests to tropical rainforests. Read moreAccess the GlobAllomeTree platform 

3rd International Union of Forest Research Organizations Latin American Congress

12–15 June, San José, Costa Rica

Forestry profession needs to change, says IUFROLAT

Profound changes are needed in the forestry profession in Latin America if it is to meet the emerging challenges facing forests, according to participants at the 3rd IUFRO Latin American Congress held in Costa Rica in June. The congress, which had 600 participants, featured 300 scientific papers presented in 53 technical sessions and 182 posters. FAO was a co-sponsor of the event. Read more below and view IUFROLAT III’s key conclusions

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Landscape approaches and forest restoration are keys to meeting global challenges
Sustainable food and energy supplies and climate change will be the world’s three main challenges by 2050, according to FAO’s Eduardo Mansur in a keynote speech at IUFROLAT III. Greater integration of the landscape approach and forest restoration in natural resource management is a major part of the solution, Mr. Mansur said.  Read more

A call for more forest education in Latin America
More support for education on forest policies, and a virtual knowledge-exchange platform for academia, were two of the needs identified by an FAO-organized event on expanding forestry knowledge and education in Latin America. Participants also recommended a multidisciplinary approach to forest education and assessments of the education needs of forestry professionals. Read more


Collaborative Partnership on Forests retreat

The Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) held its biennial strategic retreat at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy, in July, where members agreed on: actions on recommendations emerging from the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) 10; the approach for engaging in post-2015 development agenda discussions; and future CPF communications and joint initiatives. In the coming months the CPF will work closely with UN-DESA to identify the role of forests in possible future UN Sustainable Development Goals and with UNFF on the forthcoming review of the international arrangement on forests, which will be assessed at UNFF 11 in 2015. Read more

Sustainable forest-based industries committee invigorated

FAO’s Advisory Committee on Sustainable Forest-based Industries met in São Paolo, Brazil, in June, with renewed statutes and membership. The Committee discussed its inputs to FAO’s 2014–15 forestry programme and how this could better promote collaboration between FAO Forestry and the private sector. Read more

Indonesia’s recurring forest fires: need for land management solutions

This year’s forest fires in Indonesia were particularly intense, affecting neighbouring countries and leading to calls for greater forest protection to reduce environmental and health impacts. FAO’s Pieter van Lierop told Inter-Press it is important to recognize that fire is used as a land management tool and that the exchange of good practices has to be part of official solutions. Read more

Regional news

Central American stakeholders review regional strategy for forest ecosystem management

A multisectoral, multistakeholder consultation supported by FAO, GIZ and IUCN was held in San José, Costa Rica, in April to review the draft Strategic Programme for Forest Ecosystem Management in Central America. This revised regional strategy, which was first approved in 2008, is expected to be released in November when feedback from the consultation has been incorporated. Read more

Tanzania facing forest “energy crunch”

The United Republic of Tanzania is facing an impending “energy crunch”, according to a recently completed forest inventory conducted as part of a Finland-funded FAO project. Population growth and a reliance on wood energy are causing the rapid degradation of the country’s forest resources, but disaster can be averted by an integrated response that goes beyond the forest sector. Read more 

Highlighting the role of forest bioenergy for the future

More investment along the wood-energy value chain is needed to maximize the potential of the forest sector in responding to growing demand for bioenergy, according to 270 participants at a UNECE/FAO workshop in St Petersburg, Russian Federation, in May. The workshop was convened during the 3rd International Scientific Conference on Innovations and Technologies in Forestry. Read more

Innovation essential to realize the potential of wood

Process and product innovation is essential for the transition of the forest sector towards a green economy. This was the conclusion of a seminar organized in conjunction with InnovaWood in Geneva in April. Participants at the seminar considered that wood nanocellulose and polymer-based innovations in particular could be central to the wood sector’s role in a future green economy. Read more

African legislators pledge support for forests

East and southern African national legislators agreed at an inter-parliamentary hearing on “forests for people” in Tanzania in July to serve as goodwill ambassadors to raise awareness on forest conservation and promote best practices. In support of the initiative, FAO’s Foday Bojang presented the FAO guidelines on community-based forest management, a key tool for forestry practitioners in Africa. Read more and view the guidelines here.

Community involvement key to reversing desertification

Villagers and the local authority in Kouloumboutey, Niger, are striving to reverse decades of desertification that began with the drought-caused famine of 1984–85 and was exacerbated by overgrazing and excessive tree-felling. Close community involvement is a key driver of success of the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, of which Niger is a member. Read more

Upcoming meetings and events

 Collaborative Partnership on Forestsevents calendar, including:

New publications and videos

New videos

  • Egypt celebrates International Day of Forests.  Egypt’s celebration of the 1st International Day of Forests took place over two days in March, with ceremonies involving the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation and a non-governmental organization, Nawaya. Government officials, students and youth planted trees to raise awareness about planted forests and the many roles of trees, including in combating desertification. Watch the video (Arabic with English subtitles)
  • Projet de lutte contre la pauvreté et la désertification, Maroc. Inter-regional programme FAO/GCP/INT/093/SPA to combat poverty and desertification through watershed co-management. Pilot phase Oulad Outat watershed, Midelt Province, Morocco, financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation and implemented by FAO and the High Commissioner for Forestry and Combating Desertification, Kingdom of Morocco. Watch the video (French)
  • La importancia de los saberes tradicionales de las poblaciones indígenas y de las alianzas internacionales. Marco Vivar, National Coordinator, Ecuador, FAO inter-regional project to reduce poverty and combat desertification through collaborative watershed management. Watch 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. The following text was provided by Christel Palmberg, Unasylva Editorial Advisory Board member

FAO's programme for forestry and forest products

“At the Fifth Session of the FAO Conference held in Washington in November 1949, the Director-General of FAO and the Director of the Division of Forestry and Forest Products submitted to the delegates a number of documents outlining the work – past, present and future – of the Organization in regard to forestry and forest products. A condensation of these documents is presented for the information of the readers of Unasyvla.

"... The field of forestry is very wide compared with the resources of FAO and so many projects have been recommended by successive sessions of the FAO Conference, by regional conferences, and by meetings of specialists that the most rigorous selection of items for the future work program was necessary. The Director-General had to select a relatively few key projects, placing the emphasis on those which were likely to have early and practical results and in which FAO could take some effective action. ...”

Unasylva, 4(2), April–June 1950


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last updated:  Thursday, September 12, 2013