David A. Harcharik took up his
as Assistant Director-General of the FAO Forestry Department
In recent years, forest issues worldwide have become important political issues. In the 1980s, there was increasing concern about the loss of forests, particularly tropical forests, culminating in the formulation of the Tropical Forestry Action Plan, which attracted interest at the highest governmental levels. Similarly, the impacts of cross-boundary air pollution on forests, the contribution of forest loss and burning to global climatic change and reductions of biological diversity are causing deep concern. This interest was reflected in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which brought together more heads of state and government than had ever been assembled previously - all to seek ways of fostering global sustainable development, including that relating to forests.
Public interest in forest issues has also expanded, and a growing number of interest groups are demanding to participate in the decision-making process on forests and to join in management programmes. In addition to private forest industry, which has long been involved, numerous environmental activist groups, indigenous people's organizations, communities in and around forests, sportsmen's associations, and representations of various economic interests, such as tourism, ranching, agriculture, mining and energy, have all increased their involvement in forests. The result has been a move towards more open and participatory processes which, although positive, has complicated both decision-making and management.
Foresters are still learning to cope in this politically charged, highly public environment. In the past, foresters complained about being unable to attract the attention of the general public or of senior decision-makers; now there is so much attention that foresters risk being marginalized in the decision-making process related to forests. Internationally, foreign affairs ministries increasingly predominate in the forest debate while, nationally, environment ministries and a wide range of interest groups have major voices.
|Increasingly, foreign affairs ministries predominate in forest decision-making; foresters risk being marginalized|
Important institutional changes have also occurred since FAO was founded in 1945, especially the creation of new organizations with roles in world forestry. Although FAO remains the only organization of its kind with a broad and comprehensive charter that addresses all forests, there are now more than ten international intergovernmental organizations, three regional development banks, many bilateral aid agencies and numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have legitimate and important roles to play in world forestry. Fostering close coordination and collaboration among these organizations has become a major international issue.
There is also a change in the forestry profession itself, one involving a rapid evolution from sustained yield forestry to sustainable forest, or ecosystem, management. Sustained yield means harvesting the forest's wood increment without ever drawing down on the capital. The concept of sustainable forest management considers the forest in a much more holistic fashion, with greater integration among environmental, economic and social objectives. Increasing emphasis is placed on maintenance of biological diversity and the environmental, cultural and aesthetic values of forests, while also producing the multiple commodities needed by people, including, but with less focus on, wood.
The concept of sustainable forest management also implicates people as an integral component of the ecosystem. People live in and near forests and must be involved in decisions regarding the forest. This participatory process, which recognizes that people have a stake in how the resource is managed, is an essential part of the concept of sustainable forest management. Clearly, the complexity of the forest land manager's job is greatly increased when sustainable forest management is practised. Better scientific and public relations skills will be required of future managers.
Finally, there is a greater realization that many of the major impacts on forests stem from decisions and sources outside the forest sector and beyond the experience of most foresters. Population growth, poverty, unemployment, energy development, agricultural expansion, mineral exploitation, infrastructure development, trade and numerous macroeconomic policies all have a considerable influence on forests, in spite of the sophistication of the forest management techniques being used. More study of these cross-sectoral issues is needed in international forestry today.
|The concept of sustainable forest management implies a heavy concentration on people as a part of the resource|
These changes have major implications for the FAO forestry programme. They mean that FAO is operating in a more highly charged political environment, with greater awareness of the general public, and where many organizations are active. They also imply that narrow, technological solutions may be very limited and that more scientific, policy-relevant, cross-sectoral approaches are needed.
The following section reflects some of my early views on what FAO should do in order to respond to these important changes affecting forests and forestry worldwide.
One of FAO's great strengths is its ability to obtain quality advice from many sources. In March this year, it sought the views of governments, environmental and developmental organizations and private industry on what its future programmes should be and how FAO can help to speed implementation of the Forest Principles and Agenda 21, which were agreed to at the Earth Summit in 1992. Late in 1994, we sought guidance from a high-level panel of independent forestry experts. These groups provided FAO with a number of messages on the future directions that the Organization should take in addressing forest issues. The views expressed below build heavily on that advice.
Fundamental to the future success of FAO will be its ability to maintain a highly trained and experienced cadre of technical expertise on forestry and related disciplines. Fortunately, the Organization already has this, but as sustainable forest management is practised more and more, the skill level needed by FAO will increase and will need to stress interdisciplinary, ecosystem and cross-sectoral approaches.
In addition to being available to governments to help solve technological problems, FAO's skill base must be increasingly used as input to policy decisions, especially at the international level. In the coming years, a number of major global forest policy issues will be addressed by the world community. Among them will be: the desirability of a legally binding instrument on forests; the definition of the concept of sustainable forest management and the possible need to harmonize current ecoregional approaches to develop criteria and indicators and to include countries not now involved; and the advantages and disadvantages of certification schemes. FAO can and should serve as a forum where people can meet to discuss these and other issues and offer input to political decision-makers.
FAO should adopt a more participatory approach to its work. Although this has already begun, additional efforts are needed at various levels. First, within the Forestry Department itself, we will want to ensure that information is readily shared across divisional boundaries, and that team mechanisms are in place to address key subjects. Second, there needs to be good collaboration between the various departments in FAO so that cross-sectoral linkages can be addressed more effectively. Again, much of this is already in place, but it will be important to maintain momentum and seek ways to increase efficiency.
There should also be a greater sense of partnership among the international organizations that address forest issues. No one organization alone has the resources or skills to address all dimensions of global forest issues successfully. There is a need, therefore, for greater collaboration and a reduction in duplication of effort so that the skills and resources are utilized in the most efficient way. Governments, in particular, have been calling for this repeatedly, and FAO can and should play a leading role in fostering this spirit of partnership.
FAO needs to develop better means of seeking, valuing and utilizing the advice and experience of NGOs. Although we are an intergovernmental organization, and as such our main line of communication is with our Member Governments, it must not be our only one. We need to receive input from a broad range of interest groups, including private forest industries and NGOs representing environmental and developmental interests and local people. Although FAO has benefited for many years from the advisory groups of private industries, it was not until early this year that it convened a special meeting to seek input from environmental and development non-governmental organizations. Such efforts need to be continued and strengthened at the international, national and local levels.
It is essential to make better use of the existing organizational fabric and capabilities of FAO. With more than 170 members, as well as representation in many countries, six regional forestry commissions and numerous standing advisory committees, FAO has a unique institutional fabric. We need to ensure that we make the most effective use of this structure. In particular, we need to strengthen our regional forestry commissions which must become vibrant fora for policy-level debate on regional forest issues and a means of promoting regional collaboration to address forest challenges. They should also become one of FAO's major advisory sources.
FAO needs to find more effective means of tapping the opinions of heads of forest services and others who attend the Committee on Forestry (COFO), our major advisory body on forest issues. COFO is a tremendous asset, but it is underutilized. Means must be found both to foster more in-depth discussion of issues during COFO and possibly to arrange meetings of COFO members between regularly scheduled sessions (currently held every two years).
A particularly tough challenge for the future will be to set priorities. Traditionally, FAO has maintained a broad-based, comprehensive forestry programme in order to respond to the many and varied needs of its Member Governments. These needs are growing in number and complexity. As the world community continues to seek global implementation of the Forest Principles and Agenda 21 and requests FAO to play a major role in facilitating and tracking UNCED follow-up, it is vital for FAO to maintain a broad-based, solid programme in sustainable forest management and each of its environmental, economic and social dimensions, including commodity production, resource protection and meeting people's needs and aspirations. The first principle in priority setting should be, then, to maintain a credible foundation programme.
Although maintenance of the fundamental programme base is essential, FAO cannot address all forest issues. Increasingly, we will need to emphasize those activities which are of major importance, which are at the centre of our normative role and where we have a comparative advantage over other organizations. Some of the areas identified as priorities by the recent meetings of COFO and ministers of forestry include: strengthening and broadening our work in global forest assessment; strengthening activities in data and statistical reporting, analysis and strategic outlook projections; community forestry; and capacity building through national forestry action programmes. We will need to give more emphasis to these activities in the future.
As forest issues and the forestry profession itself change, FAO will need to adapt accordingly. It will need to become more active in shaping the world forest agenda and to be at the cutting edge of emerging issues, innovations and technologies; it will need to be an organization that brings the best science and technology to bear on policy decisions, and one that sets priorities while also maintaining a balanced forestry programme with a highly experienced cadre of technical expertise that serves as a world clearing-house for information on forests. We will want to be open and participatory in our processes and collaborative in our work with other international organizations. FAO should be a forum for debate and dialogue, not only responsive to change, but also an instrument of change.
To summarize, FAO needs to maintain a strong, balanced programme in forestry. We need to harmonize the idea of producing commodities - goods that people need and will continue to need - with the conservation of the resource and environmental protection while ensuring the satisfaction of the needs and aspirations of local people. That is what the Earth Summit was all about - sustainable development, in our case sustainable forestry.
The results of the changes proposed here will not be evident overnight but, by putting them in place now, FAO will be positioned to realize them by the year 2000 and to be widely viewed as the principal voice of the world's forests and the people who depend on them.