Uncertain future for forestry at FAO

Forestry seems to be further weakened at FAO while the new Department of Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water most probably will attract additional resources for enhancing natural resource management. This column is a point of departure by SIFI to analyze this recent restructuring of FAO.

The new department, green-lighted by the FAO Council in December last year, will focus on supporting countries in adapting food systems to climate change and fulfilling their commitments made under the Paris Climate Treaty. It will also oversee all FAO work related to the sustainable management of land and water resources which underpin global food production (see FAO press release).

The future of forestry at FAO

After barely a year as Assistant Director-General and Head of the FAO Forestry Department, Dr. Rene Castro has taken over the new department. Hence, the position as ADG for the Forestry Department is open. The divisions of the department have been reduced during this decade from three to one only.

Forests are one part of the climate solution that influence land and water management and are crucial in the Global Agenda 2030. In this respect there are clear links between the Forestry Department and the new department.

The new department will probably attract resources, at the expense of other departments. From the point of view of securing a future platform for forestry dialogue at FAO, the best alternative would clearly be to allocate sufficient resources for the forestry department as an independent entity.

Sectors and integrated approaches

To be able to solve sustainability issues regarding natural resources an integrated, holistic approach is crucial. It seems very challenging to transfer the main responsibility of securing sustainability to one department, since efforts regarding achieving sustainable solutions have to be linked to all FAO departments dealing with natural resources.

Theoretically, an interaction between integrated approaches, e.g. the landscape approach, and the sectorial administration could be a fruitful way forward to manage natural resources (see SIFI and SIANI:s policy brief). The conclusion is that well represented sectors and trust among stakeholders are necessary for the integrated approaches to become successful.

The current development – Nordic perspectives

The current development at FAO may indicate that traditional sectorial approaches are not sufficient to identify and handle challenges and opportunities in global land use development. So far, the vast majority of FAO member countries have administrations built on sectors. Hence, it is probably an advantage to have a more or less corresponding structure at the multilateral FAO. Also, it is crucial to highlight the importance not to let the departments based on sectors have their position undermined. At least, there should be alternative clear strategies elaborated how to integrate them into any new organization. This is of special importance for the Nordic countries were forestry is crucial for the economic development, but also for the environmental and cultural objectives.

Objective picture of the global development

Obviously, it is most important for the Nordic countries to closely follow and participate in the strategic development of the forestry issues at FAO. The Nordic countries have traditionally supported FAO as a most important arena for engaged debate among member countries on topical forestry issues. No doubt, this function will be very much needed in the future also. But also the advanced economies should clearly be of great importance for FAO to deliver an objective integrated picture of the development of the global community. If the Forestry Department will not be properly resourced there is a risk that the FAO forestry issues will be marginalized.

The overall goals of the FAO Forestry

The current development shows that there are reasons to initiate a discussion about the overall goals of FAO forestry, focusing on the following issues.

  • Why do we need a global forestry organization?
  • Is the FAO Forestry Department suitable to deliver these services?
  • What are the possible pathways forward for forestry issues at FAO in relation to other global forestry organizations?

These issues will be highlighted by the think tank through a series of articles during the coming year at www.sifi.se.

The Think Tank for International Forestry Issues, SIFI