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A talk with world forestry's new top gun.

AMERICAN FORESTS: Throughout the world there is a great deal of concern about large-scale damage. and destruction of tropical forests. How is this to be addressed?

Hollis Murray: Much of the pressure on forests, even their destruction, is coming about because people have basic needs that must be satisfied.

In other words, poverty is one of the great underlying causes of forest destruction. Politicians, policy makers, governments must bear this in mind and take the necessary action to expand the opportunities people have to improve their lives. That is the way to remove pressure not only on the forests but on other resources as well,

It is now well-recognized that if you are going to improve the lot of the people and maximize the resources, the most important thing is to involve the PeOple. They know best about these resources because they and their forebears have been living and working in the forests.

The forester of today, especially in international development work, has to be conscious of the needs of the people to whom this resource is important. Sometimes it is their only source of living.

AF: Something historically new is taking place in tropical forestry. I refer to the Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) in which 20 donor governments, four multilateral assistance banks (see box in November/December LOOKOUT column), and 15 international organizations have come together to stop the wasting of the tropical forests. In four years they have increased their involvement from $600 million to $1 billion. The FAO Forestry Department is the central coordinating agency for the Tropical Forestry Action Plan. How do you see FAO's role?

MURRAY: First of all, we must understand that the Tropical Forestry Action Plan is not a plan in the traditional sense. It is not intended that we gO tO gOvernments and say: "Here is a blueprint, a plan that should be a panacea for your problem. "

The Tropical Forestry Plan is a process which, when put in motion, will help identify bottlenecks and other difficulties. In seeking to answer the question why the forest is not making a bigger and better contribution to the economy of a particular country, the TFAP will eventually lead to traditional forestry plans.

But along the way, in order to answer that question, the forest service of a country must be involved, and so must the highest levels of government planners, economists, and, above all, the policy makers, because that's where the decisions must be taken.

In these ways TFAP is different from anything that has taken place in the past. There are all sorts of plans sitting on shelves, drawn up by well-meaning professionals, that exclude other sectors and are ignored, even by the planners who should be taking them into account.

But in the TFAP the planners, the policy makers, the potential investors are brought in at an early stage, so that all of them can make an effort in attempting to solve the problem.

No government likes to be told by outsiders what to do with its own resources. How does FAO, as the focal point of TFAP, propose to bring governments around to changing their ways regarding tropical forests?

MURRAY: I don't see it exactly as telling governments what to do.

Governments have specific objectives. By and large, they are trying to improve the quality of life of their people. They have different ways and different methods, but when you get down to it, that is what they are trying to do.

The job we have is-by discussion, by education even-to convince the powers that be in a given country that forests are important resources which have value. This value in many instances can be quantified in monetary terms. But it is a value that is also important in terms of the well-being of the people who live near the forests.

In many instances it is rather difficult to quantify some of these values- It is a matter of demonstrating to the best of our ability to political leaders that their forests do have these values and that they can be utilized through sound management. It is not for us to tell them what is good for them. It is for us to persuade them

. .to demonstrate to them the advantages of managing their forests.

We recognize at every turn that national governments are sovereign.

Our role is to advise, counsel, and even guide the governments. But in the final analysis, the job has to be done by the government through its people, with whatever outside help can be found from FAO, from the UN, from bilateral or other donors.

AF: FAO did pioneering work in making the first and only survey of the tropical forests of the world as of 1980. So we at least now have a base line of reference for a resource on which the data is notoriously poor and scattered. Now, 10 years later, FAO is beginning to make the second survey.

To many observers it seems amazing that it took so long just to get to this point. The costs are small-the first survey cost only 600,000.

This second survey will take in all forests of the world and bring n considerably more detail about the tropics, and it will cost less than $3 million, Would it not be feasible to have monitoring of the world's tropical forests as a permanent international activity?

MURRAY: It is possible to institutionalize the monitoring of the tropical forests. The answer to that is positively yes.

AF: Do you think that the 155-odd member governments of the FAO will decree

that this should be a permanent part of FAO's work?

MURRAY: I would like to hear that, yes, The major pressure is on tropical forests, but there is pressure also to know more about forests across the world. What I would like to see emerging from this new FAO survey is not only a static figure-showing the state of forest resources as of such and such a day or year-but, as you say, continuous monitoring.

Technically it should not be a major problem, especially with satellite imagery.

But in all this I can already flag one weak point. We always will have to depend upon information from member countries. Checking has to relate the satellite imagery to what is on the ground, so inputs from the member countries are necessary. Here, frequently, we have difficulties simply because not all of our member countries are in states of financial good health. Our greatest hope is that they will cooperate and collaborate, but financial troubles may prevent them from doing even that.

AF: It seems you are suggesting that supporting projects are needed to strengthen the forest mensuration capabilities of certain of the developing countries so that all are up to minimum norms. That, I believe, is a target that FAO has worked on considerably over the years.

But there is another point about monitoring. Ten years ago, countries were suspicious of satellite monitoring of their forests, seeing it as a form of intelligence gathering. Is this still a problem?

MURRAY; In the beginning there was a lot of suspicion. But this is fading fast. The U.S., the USSR, Japan, and others are taking pictures all the time. So whether you like it or not, the imagery is there. I feel that we would not have too great a problem in convincing FAO's member countries of the usefulness and importance of this type of exercise.

More difficult, as I have already indicated, is getting uniform information about the expanse, the state, the changes taking place in tropical forests. This is a problem that cuts across all our statistical information.

Only yesterday I was at a meeting where we were told that the quality of our statistics has declined, because of the reliability of the information coming from the field. The statistical offices in many developing countries don't have the necessary staff, or they are suffering from a brain drain, or they send you a guesstimate that bears no relation to reality.

AF: Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, said that the USSR wants to cooperate in inter@ national environmental work in the context of the United Nations. The Soviet Union has also broadened its observer status in the FAO.

Officials at FAO as well as in the U.S. Department of State see these as signs that the Soviet Union is preparing to become a member of FAO. What can you say about this?

MURRAY: I don't have up-to-date information on this. As you say, the Soviet Union has strengthened its presence at the FAO in Rome. My understanding is that their interest just now is mostly in fisheries. But I would like to think that because of the pronouncement made by President Gorbachev himself, the door would not be too difficult to open on this whole question of the environment. The Forestry Department has already cooperated with the Soviet Union, in providing statistics and training courses, even though they are not members of the FAO.

AF: One mammoth project between the Soviet Union and the United Nations agencies has already entered the planning stage, A $2 billion UN project is being put together for postwar rehabilitation of Afghanistan, to which the Soviet Union has pledged $600 million. Do you foresee the FAO Forestry Department getting involved in this?

MURRAY: There would be a tremendous role for forestry there. I do not see this as immediate; it will develop once the situation stabilizes somewhat and people have settled and are able to reestablish their food supplies, etc. it also will depend upon what will happen to the government of the country.

FAO works through a country's administration, and getting involved in reforestation or this type of assistance would involve close collaboration with whichever administration establishes itself. But until that situation is clarified, I think we would be somewhat handicapped.

AF: The concern frequently expressed about the state of the environment worldwide also extends to nationally and internationally sponsored forestry projects in developing countries. Nongovernmental environmental organizations in particular have been critical about the fact that, aside from USAID, environmental impact statements do not generally exist for foreign-aid projects. Will you be moving toward getting environmental impact statements installed as a normal feature of FAO forestry projects?

MURRAY: The art, so to speak, of environmental impact studies has been developed principally in North America, and to a lesser extent in the more developed countries of Europe. It is an important question that has to be kept in mind. It is true that we at FAO and the UN as a whole have not been doing much of this.

But because of the importance of the total environment, and because of the effect of development work, negative or positive-mostly negative- I would be inclined in the future to build such studies into all projects.

It will not only provide us, as the only global forestry agency, with the kind of information we need, it will also directly assist our monitoring.

And I think it would demonstrate to the world at large, and to our member governments in particular, our concern for the effects of whatever work we are involved in on their behalf.

This is an important element. I personally would like to see that more of this is done in the future.
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Title Annotation:Hollis Murray, Assistant Director General, Forestry Department at Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations
Author:Pasca, Ted
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:interview
Date:May 1, 1989
Previous Article:Forest planning: voices unheard.
Next Article:Profile: Hollis Murray.

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