Published: Thursday 28 February 2002

International experts met at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome recently to discuss ways and means to combat illegal forest practices. They also considered policy options for improving compliance with the law in the forestry sector.

"The global goal of managing forests in ways that are compatible with their capacity to renew themselves and sustain their flow of goods and services is increasingly threatened by the widespread occurrence of a variety of illegal acts," said Hosny El Lakany, FAO's assistant director-general, forestry department. A countless list of forest crimes were identified by the experts, including corrupt allocation of timber concessions to illegal worldwide processing and trade of forest products.

The FAO State of the World's Forests (SOFO) 2001 drew attention to the widespread nature of forest crimes worldwide. Experts believed that forest harvesting was illegal and contributing to industrial production and trade. This, according to them, jeopardised not only the sustainability of forest resources but caused serious environmental distress and hit the poor the hardest.

They also considered linkages between consumer and producer countries and concluded that the responsibility for illegal activities did not reside exclusively with the producing countries. They emphasised the importance of transparency and heightened efforts to disseminate information and increase involvement of civil society against illegal forest practices to generate support for implementation of strict policies and reforms.

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