April 1997 FO: ACPWP 97/5



Rome, 23 - 25 April 1997


Progress achieved world-wide and FAO's contribution


In the follow-up to the 1992 UNCED meeting, there has been extensive world-wide forest policy discussions and preliminary attempts at implementing sustainable forest management (SFM) in most of the world's regions. In addition to a brief summary of the current forest policy environment, this paper provides a description and discussion of the practical aspects of SFM and how it will impact on future forest utilization. It is important to bear in mind that the practical features of SFM are only beginning to be documented; nonetheless, there are emerging themes that already have serious implications for the forest products industry in fibre supply planning. FAO is playing an active role at the policy and practical levels of management.


Since the 1992 UNCED meeting, which produced a set of international forest principles and agenda for action (Agenda 21), 5 years have elapsed and sceptics argue that little has happened to improve the situation of the world's forests. While there is merit to this argument, it clearly does a disservice to the forest products companies, NGOs, research institutes, universities, international organizations and governments attempting to take the principles of sustainable forest management [SFM] and translate them into concrete action.

This paper gives a brief overview of the global forest policy environment and the initiatives FAO and others are taking at the policy level. Perhaps more importantly, it also provides a description and discussion of the more technical aspects of SFM and how it is being implemented at the management level in forest operational trials. It concludes with a discussion of the major challenges ahead for converting the concept of SFM into measurable results.

SFM at the Policy Level

Criteria and indicators for implementation, monitoring and reporting

Since UNCED, criteria and indicators have been formulated and refined through several international and national, governmental and non-governmental processes. The intergovernmental processes have been conducted mainly within the framework of a number of major international initiatives which are summarized in Table 1. These initiatives are described more fully in the 1997 State of the World's Forest report (FAO 1997a).

Table 1 - Ongoing international initiatives by geographic region

Ecological Region Initiative Number of Countries Forest Area (000ha)
Temperate and Boreal Forest Helsinki Process
904 577
Montreal Process
1 500 000
Tropical ForestITTO Producer Countries
1 305 046
Tarapoto Proposal
540 000
Dry-Zone sub-Saharan Forest FAO/UNEP

Dry Zone Africa

278 021
Dry-Zone Near East FAO/UNEP
69 895
All types of Forests FAO

Central American / Lepaterique Process

19 631

These international initiatives are now being tested in operational sustainable forest management systems in several countries. The Center for International Forest Research, for example, has been field testing Criteria and Indicators for three years in different location world-wide (Prabhu 1996).

Improvement of forest legislation and policy reform

Many countries have recently introduced new forest policies and laws protecting their resources through improved management. Table 2 presents selected examples of the kinds of reform currently underway. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list but rather indicative of the extent and nature of the reform underway. These reforms are indicators of how the concept of SFM is being interpreted in the policy and legislative arena.

Table 2 - Selected examples of legislative and policy reform

CountryTypes of reform recently introduced
CanadaBritish Columbia forest practices code

ISO based wood certification scheme by Canadian Standard Association

CameroonReform of forest law
GhanaNational timber certification scheme

Log export ban

CambodiaForest policy reform process

Logging control and log verification

IndonesiaNational timber certification scheme

Criteria and indicators of natural production forest sustainability at the national level

Sustainable management on natural production forest on management unit level

Technical guidance on criteria and indicators at the management unit level

MalaysiaRegional code of practice for timber harvesting in Asia-Pacific

National timber certification scheme

Guidelines on logging practice in Peninsular Malaysia

New Zealand Forest code of practice
Papua New GuineaPNG logging code of practice

National forest plan

CongoLog export controls
South AfricaSouth African harvesting code of practice
USACodes of best management practice

Oregon Forest Practice Act

SFM at the Management Unit Level

To forest companies reforms at the management unit level are equally if not more important to their operations since this will have direct impacts on their operating practices, legal agreements for timber cutting, and ultimately on their profitability.

However, before discussing the more specific impacts of SFM, it is useful to describe and assess the differences of SFM from the older concept of sustained yield. This is one way to articulate the shift in management emphasis in forest operations.

Sustained Yield and SFM

SFM is primarily a systematic approach to sustaining each component of the forest ecosystem and their interactions. In forests available for wood supply, this means combining wood production with other management objectives, above all, the conservation of plant and animal biological diversity and soil and water conservation. Similar intentions were not as clear in the classic management concept of sustained yield but it is now agreed that forest management must systematically address a fuller range of environmental, social and economic issues (Lanly 1995). Table 3 is a summary of major differences in management approach between the two concepts.

Table 3 - Comparison of SFM and sustained yield forestry objectives for temperate forests

SFMSustained Yield Forestry
Maintain the productivity of the forest, by avoiding erosion, soil degradation, and impoverishment of the soil ecosystem. Emphasizes productivity but the tendency is to use agricultural techniques to establish plantations or to use the least cost regeneration technique.
Use practices which mimic natural disturbances to the extent that is feasible. No emphasis on the mimicking of natural disturbance. Aesthetic impacts are considered, as well as silvicultural characteristics of species and economics. Where feasible, convert stands of species with low commercial value to high valued species.
Search for harvesting methods which reduce the level of disturbance in the forest, which primarily has meant that the size of clear-cut areas is being reduced and partial harvesting systems are being used more widely. Increasing utilization and reducing cost are the primary motivators, subject to social constraints on clear-cut size.
Maintain wildlife populations and maintain species. Maintaining wildlife and non-timber species was generally considered outside the purview of forest managers and applied biologists were primarily concerned about maintaining populations of game species.
Maintain structural and biological diversity in managed forests. The agro-industrial ideal was to have uniform rows of same sized, single species trees. Aesthetic considerations and economic costs were primary constraints.

Source: Bull, Williams and Duinker 1996, Williams 1997

Conveying the differences is critical to forest management and some forest companies are already changing their plans and operational procedures to SFM.

Field Application of SFM

The international community has had numerous, some might call it a plethora, of discussions at the national and international level on the subjects of biological diversity, SFM, ecosystem management, wood certification, and, criteria and indicators. At the same time, field managers have been trying to interpret the implications of these initiatives into their operations. The concerns of industry, and in many cases government and communities relate to three major elements:

  • Yield regulation
  • Silvicultural system
  • Harvesting system

Since it is imperative that both forest policy actors and field practitioners understand the implications of their decisions, each of these elements warrant more discussion on their specific mechanics.

Yield regulation

In practical terms, SFM has to be incorporated into timber yield regulations. The many formulas for yield calculation contain three basic elements: the biological rotation period or the felling cycle, the forest volume increment or growth and, existing growing stock of the forest. Changing to SFM means a change in the way we calculate the forest harvest level. The first change is applied to the rotation age or felling cycle; it is frequently being made longer. This means that the interventions in the forest are less and the total volume removed from the total forest has to be less in each felling cycle. So, for example, if the felling cycle is extended from 30 to 50 years for the same forest area then the total average removal per year would necessarily be less.

The forest increment statistic being applied is also changing. Traditionally, the increment was calculated use the mean average growth with insufficient integration of losses dues to mortality. In the tropics for example, where yield calculation are conducted, the regulations are applying a reduction factor of up to .5 to account for these losses (FAO 1975). This has enormous implications for sustainable yields, particularly for forests which are already converted to semi-natural forest (FAO 1997b).

The growing stock number is also being carefully scrutinized. Is the reported number the total growing stock, the productive growing stock or the commercial growing stock? As fibre supply is being more restricted in many regions this takes on a growing importance. For example, FAO now has estimates that while the total growing stock in Indonesia is 8.0 billion m3, the current commercial growing stock could be 3.0 billion m3 . Obviously the number chosen for yield calculations will have a dramatic effect on the estimate of sustainable fibre yield. In the future, particularly with the advent of technical tools such as geographic information systems, there will be an increasing emphasis on defining the commercial growing stock on the area available for wood supply. It is on this area that you will see the application of SFM principles to forest harvesting.

Finally, the traditional formula variables described above will likely have to be further modified to allow for the application of an additional reduction factor. This factor will allow for the inclusion of, for example, riparian areas and biological diversity in some regions.
Yield regulation can also be analyzed by examining case studies which indicate reduction in various regions at an operational scale. Table 4 indicates that the range of reduction in volumes can be minor to very significant. This has important implications for fibre supply planning. Discussion will therefore have to begin amongst the policy actors as to the appropriate distribution of the costs as a esult of forest volume harvest reductions.

Table 4 - Forest volumes impacts of SFM

Region/ Country Case StudyForest volume impact
West Coast North America Clayoquot Sound30-40 % reduction
Nordic EuropeA. Berklund 6-8% reduction
Boreal North America: White River15% reduction
Boreal North America: Seine River24% reduction
Sabah, MalaysiaDermakot up to 100% reduction
East Kalimantan, Indonesia STREK Project9% reduction
BoliviaChimanes Forest 24-57% reduction
Eastern Amazonia, Brazil Paragominas Region 61% reduction

Harvesting and silvicultural system

The harvesting and silvicultural systems will increasingly be blended into one overall system management under the concept of SFM. At the operational level, increasingly the person(s) responsible for harvesting operations must also plan for all the necessary pre- and post- harvesting silvicultural actions as an integral part of the harvesting system. Table 5 summarizes some of the changes in the major silvicultural and harvesting systems. Notice how countries like Indonesia and Malaysia seem to be reversing the systems in opposite directions in their attempts to apply SFM. It is now fairly widely accepted that there is no one 'perfect' system which will definitely express SFM; rather, the appropriate system must match the biological and physical factors of the forest area.

A central question for any forest operation is of course the cost impact of adopting to new harvesting and silvicultural systems. Unfortunately, many studies either do not present the cost impacts, and when they do, it is frequently expressed using different terminology. Table 6 presents the information as increase in cost per m3, loss of profits to loggers, and increase in cost per hectare. The financial impacts are due to a number of factors including: increase in planning costs, pre-harvest inventories, extra efforts to reduce logging damage, changing log utilization standards use of new logging equipment to meet environmental standards, and increased costs of combining silviculture techniques with harvesting techniques, mills have to operate at below capacity. In many cases the cost are rising and unfortunately, the revenue from forest products is not. This creates great difficulties for an industry which is not performing particularly well in comparison with some of the other industrial sectors.

Table 5 - Silvicultural and harvesting systems used in tropical forests

CountryOther countries where variants applied Old System Principle characteristics Emerging Systems Principle characteristics
Brazil >45 cm DBH

30 year felling cycle





Sri Lanka




Selective Felling System >50cm DBH partially removed

35 year felling cycle


Shelterwood / Enrichment Planting in Dipterocarps monocyclic

60-70 year felling cycle/15 years for the planted species




Malaysian Uniform System > 45cm DBH


Selective Management System >45cm DBH


25-30 year cuts

lower volume removed



Côte d'Ivoire

Tropical Shelterwood System sampling 6 years before final fellings.

60-80% of commercial basal area frequently removed

Suriname Regular Management >35cm DBH


CELOS harvesting and silvicultural system > 35 cm DBH


20-25 year cuts

The financial impacts of SFM are real but they do vary greatly from study to study as indicated below. While the financial impact shown in Table 6 are based on the analysis of individual case studies, there seems to be a general consensus that commercial delivered wood costs are rising.

Table 6 - Summary of financial impacts of SFM

Region/Country Case studyFinancial impacts (short term)
North America- West Coast Clayoquot Sound8-25% cost increase per m3
Asia- MalaysiaInnoprize Corporation 5% cost increase per m3
Latin America-Bolivia Chimanes35-67% loss in profits to logging contractors
Latin America - Eastern Amazonia, Brazil Paragominas Region US$72/ha increase
Latin America- Suriname CELOS10-20% cost savings
Latin America- Brazil Precious Woods0% cost increase per m3 but assumes more trees as commercial species

Private Sector Response to SFM

Responsible forest management is becoming part of forest concession agreements and companies are increasingly equipping themselves with qualified personnel and scientific support in order to meet the requirements of modern forest management including preharvesting prescriptions, preharvesting treatments, best harvesting practices guidelines, and management audits.

Increasingly forest products companies are accepting that SFM is a condition of doing business. The challenge is to ensure that all companies have accepted the concept at the operational scale to ensure that the rules are the same for everyone. Otherwise, there is a distinct risk that poor environmental practice will be used as a competitive tool by irresponsible companies.

In adopting an SFM strategy there are still serious challenges for the wood products industry. First, many forest concession agreements are too short in terms of time, frequently incomplete and contain too many risk factors. Second, there is a serious lack of studies to determine the appropriate fiscal incentives necessary to change to new harvesting and silvicultural systems. Third, there is insufficient discussion between governments, industry, communities and NGOs on the appropriate sharing of the social costs of adopting SFM.

FAO's Contribution to the debate

Law, Policy and Technical Information

FAO has been very active in forest and conservation law reform in many developing and transition countries. Since 1992 FAO has been advising member countries on reforms to their forest laws that also promote SFM principles [See Table 7].

Table 7 - Countries where FAO has provide assistance in law reform

AfricaAsia/Middle East Latin AmericaEurope
BeninIndonesia BoliviaArmenia
Burkina-FasoJordan/Syria Trinidad/TobagoCyprus
Cape-VerdeFiji CubaRomania
CongoLaos SurinameLatvia

Policy dialogue is a major role of the FAO and there are a number of means to facilitate it. At the global level, every two years the FAO Committee on Forestry (COFO) brings together the heads of forest services and other senior government officials to identify emerging issues and to advise FAO on a course of action. FAO also convenes Regional Forestry Commission meetings, international meetings of ministers responsible for forestry and representatives of nongovernmental, environmental and development organizations and leaders of the private forest industries to follow-up on the UNCED process.

Wood certification

The FAO is closely associated with certification issues, both in relation to forest management and to trade. In particular FAO has been involved in efforts to determine how forest management standards may be assessed; what should be evaluated; and what the market effects of certification may be. It also has been closely involved with the development of national-level criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management, a subject that some see as having linkages to certification.

FAO will continue to monitor activities and provide technical input into certification efforts in order to ensure that schemes are soundly based and that their implications are carefully considered. Where appropriate it will carry out studies, and provide information and advice on both forest management and trade aspects of the subject. It will encourage the development of well considered, technically-sound, effective, certification schemes.

Further work is needed before effective, acceptable system(s), which are mutually compatible, are available. Some of the areas needing increased attention are:

  • further analysis of all aspects (from in-forest to in-market), including the evaluation of certification schemes that have been in place for a period of time in order to learn from their experience and to ensure that mis-use does not occur;
  • increased analysis of the likely benefits and limitations of certification, and greater clarity on what its likely impacts may be, including its impacts on trade;
  • continuation of trials to determine what factors should be assessed in order to evaluate forest management and how they can be reliably measured;
  • development of effective and accurate procedures for tracking wood from the forest to the market (i.e. chain of custody);
  • agreement on such issues as who should carry out certification; what the basis of the certification should be; who should issue certificates; who should assess certifiers competence;
  • evaluation of the role of the various groups, in particular the role of governments;
  • analysis of the degree to which there are linkages between national and management unit level criteria and indicators, and between the latter and forest product certification;
  • further efforts to develop stronger linkages between the certification systems that are being developed, and to reach broad agreement and where possible mutual recognition, of alternative schemes in order to limit conflicts. A basic need is to achieve a degree of international and regional agreement on sound approaches to sustainable forestry.

Technical information

FAO is organizing the XI World Forestry Congress. The general theme is "Forestry for Sustainable Development: Towards the 21st Century". It is expected that the Congress will have a broad participation and outreach, considering the current debate on forests within the follow-up to UNCED. The timing of the Congress, just after the conclusion of the tasks of CSD's Interdepartmental Panel on Forests and the comprehensive review of Agenda 21 by a special session of the UN General Assembly, makes the Congress the logical venue to look at the follow-up in sustainable forestry development.

FAO also seeks specialized technical advice on policy through various standing committees on forest gene resources, forest products and through ad hoc working groups on priority issues. Examples are the Advisory Committee and Paper and Wood Products and the very recent Working Group on Forest Sector Outlook Studies.

In late 1995, the FAO Forestry Department initiated the Global Fibre Supply Study with an outlook to the year 2050. The general objective of the study is to contribute reliable data, information and analysis of industrial fibre sources. The study includes a compilation of the latest available inventory data, including recovered and non-wood fibre, focusing primarily on the sources of industrial fibre as raw material for the sawmilling, wood-based panels, and pulp and paper industries. It will also include a projection and analysis of future developments in fibre supply, based on explicit consideration of the major factors affecting supply.

The Organization undertakes a global forest assessment every 10 years, highlighting forest cover, deforestation and forest degradation. The next assessment will be published in the year 2000 and will be known as FRA 2000.

FAO also regularly provided information on wood products production, trade, regional and world forest outlook studies and forest sector studies. The Yearbook of Forest Products is a well-known example of statistics on products and trade, the Asia-Pacific study is the current regional forest outlook study and the Provisional outlook study for global forest products consumption, production and trade is an example of model development for world outlook studies.

One of the key elements of non-wood forest products is the gathering, analysis and dissemination of key technical information on non-wood forest products. The overall aim is to enhance the sustainable utilization of non-wood forest products in order to contribute to the management of the world's forest and the conservation of their biodiversity, and to improve food and income security for rural people.

Technical Assistance at the Management Unit Level

FAO offers technical assistance to developing countries to help create and implement policies and technologies on SFM. Currently, the FAO is active in some 250 forestry technical assistance projects in 90 countries. Technical projects level assistance covers most dimensions of SFM (Harcharik 1995).

In addition, FAO also develops practical field manuals, analyzes sustainable utilization of forest resources and assists in ongoing wood-worker training programmes. These activities are in some respects the most important since SFM has to be translated into the operational setting. This means that resources such as trees and non-wood products will be utilized but at a sustainable level.

FAO is also attempting to offer more practical guidance in SFM. Following are a few examples of projects which attempt to provide such guidance.

Environmentally sound harvesting practices - Congo

This is a case study on forest harvesting in natural forests of the south Congo has just been completed. The study report is part of a series of case studies published by FAO in the field of forest harvesting. The study was carried out in cooperation with a private contractor operating a concession. It is the first one carried out by the FAO in collaboration with a private industrial enterprise. The objective of the study was the establishment of reliable data on a ground harvesting system in the tropics, using power saws, crawler tractors and wheeled skidders. The case study consisted of a study inventory, a harvesting recovery analysis, and a harvesting impact assessment.

Environmentally sound harvesting practices - Brazil

The objective of the Brazilian study was to thoroughly document and establish data on environmentally sound forest harvesting associated with careful planning of every phase of the harvesting operations in the tropical natural forest of the Amazon in Brazil. This type of harvesting was compared with the traditional harvesting system used in the region. Another aim was to establish the applicability of the FAO Model Code for each phase of harvesting. In conducting the study FAO worked with a forest products company whose aim is to demonstrate the economic viability of SFM integrated with a wood processing industry.

Model code of forest harvesting

FAO has just recently developed a Model code of forest harvesting practices with the aim to assist FAO member countries to consider the adoption or revision of their own codes of practice and promote environmentally sound forest operations world-wide. The practical means to achieve is by adopting low impact felling systems, new wood harvesting systems and appropriate road development.

Handbook on tropical forest management

Currently the FAO is in the process of developing a handbook for tropical forest management. The objective is to provide practitioners with a manual which will take the principles of SFM and translate them into practical methods for field practice. This will include suggestions on issues such as regulating harvest or sustainable yield, maintaining a continuous forest inventory, and road and skidtrail construction.

Major Challenges Ahead

Law, Policy and Technical Information

Most reports still concur that population growth will continue, albeit at a slower rate in richer countries, and that there is a shortage of productive land in the poorer countries for agriculture and wood production. Also there is still a frequent lack of land use planning, for example of converting land from forest to agricultural production and finally, poor enforcement of forest laws.

For the policy maker, there is still a serious lack of reliable up-to-date information on forest resources. Frequently, for example, forest inventories are old or of poor quality. Therefore planning for the future still requires policy makers to make many dubious assumptions until there are significant step taken, such as those by Indonesia, to create a reliable inventory system.

Technical Assistance at the Management Unit Level

At the management unit level there continues to be irresponsible forest practices which can only explained by weak regulatory control, corruption or lack of long term guarantees for forest supply. In many regions there continues to be ineffective market mechanisms in log distribution which can lead to monopolistic pricing, unfair distribution of economic rents and poor forest management practices.

Changes are and will have to continue to take place in how the forest products industry defines its role in the communities in which it operates. For example, a major forest products company announced on April 9, 1997 a joint venture forest company with an indigenous group in western Canada in which the indigenous group will own 51 percent of the shares. Many more arrangements of this nature will likely happen in the future. Likewise, rural communities will also be much more involved with forest products firms in decisionmaking, particularly in single industry towns. Building new arrangements will take time and mutual trust of the stakeholders.

Finally, there is a lack of field data and field demonstrations of the impact of SFM and how it can be achieved in practical terms. To address this weakness closer cooperation is required between the industry, government, local people and NGOs. It also means information will have to be more freely shared which can only happen in an atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation.


Given the preponderance of legal and policy initiatives that include SFM, it is likely that international institutions, such as the World Bank and FAO and UNDP, and country aid agencies, such as the ODA, SIDA, FINNIDA, CIDA, GTZ and many others, will become even more involved in supporting SFM at the management unit level.

The FAO Forest Department is actively trying to contribute to the discussion of SFM but with increasing budgetary constraints it needs to work in stronger partnerships with other institutions, public agencies and most certainly the private sector. Cooperation is not an option, it is a necessity.

By examining case studies, the impacts of SFM at the management unit level produces different results under different conditions. While it is clear that in most cases there is an impact, each forest company will have to determine for their own particular circumstance what change, if any, in timber volume harvested can be anticipated, and what the change in the many financial costs will be under SFM. It will then be necessary to have discussions with governments, aid agencies, NGOs and international institutions on how to distribute the impact of these changes. Private sector companies should not have to bear all the immediate impacts. In the long run, everyone benefits from the application of SFM.

It is also clear from the information presented that some countries are seriously engaged in efforts to ensure that the forest are managed sustainably and that practical progress is being achieved. By giving recognition to this progress, hopefully more forest companies and forest landowners (governments, investors, individuals and communities) will take up the challenge to implement the concept of SFM in all forest operations. The FAO will continue to play a vital role in translating the SFM vision into a reality.


Bull G., Williams J. and Duinker P. 1996. The future contribution of the global temperate and boreal forests to the sustainable paper cycle. Report prepared for the International Institute of Environment and Development: Sustainable Paper Cycle Project. London, UK.

FAO. 1997a. State of the World's Forests Report. Rome, Italy (Draft).

FAO. 1997b. Handbook for the Management of Tropical Forest Management. Rome, Italy (Draft).

FAO. 1975. Management Possibilities of Tropical High Forest in Africa. FO/75, Rome, Italy.

Harcharik, D. 1995. Promoting Sustainable Forest Management: Journal of Forestry 93(10): 18-20.

Lanly, J.P. 1995. Sustainable forest management: lessons of history and recent developments. Unsylva 46(182): 38-45.

Prabhu R. et al. 1996. Testing Criteria and Indicators for the sustainable management of forests: phase 1. Final report. Centre for International Forest Research. Indonesia.

Williams, J. 1997. Impacts of Sustainable Forest Management on Global Fibre Supply. Background Report. Prepared for the Global Fibre Supply Study. FAO Forestry Department (Draft).

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