This chapter reviews the state of FGR conservation and management (C&M) strategies and programmes and their implementation as addressed and derived from country reports and regional syntheses prepared for the SoW-FGR. Starting with a summary of the values of FGR C&M, it presents a brief description of FGR C&M and its elements, and moves on to consider countries’ progress in characterising their genetic diversity and in undertaking FGR conservation and management, both in situ, circa situm and ex situ. It also reviews progress in breeding and genetic improvement of forest tree species, and considers the systems for deploying and distributing forest genetic materials for application in the wide variety of activities and uses identified by countries, including by rural communities, on farms, in natural and planted forests. Themes emerging from the country reports have been identified, discussed and developed, particularly where these provide insights and methods for achieving more effective FGR C&M notably through identified strategic priorities (SPs).
2.1FGR conservation and management
All countries contain trees within their borders– in natural and planted forests, rural areas, farms, orchards and gardens. Trees and forests are used by people for food, fuel, fibre, materials, medicines, and serve a myriad of other human needs, including social, cultural, aesthetic, religious, spiritual, as well as providing environmental services (biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, climate amelioration, protection of soil, and water catchments). The enormous range of goods and services provided by trees and forests is both a function of and testimony to the genetic variability contained within them.
Variation is continuously being generated through sexual recombination and mutations, and natural selection acts on this background of variability through the process of evolution, producing new variants that are better adapted to survive and compete, and cope with changing environmental conditions. Individual trees contain genetic variations that distinguish them from other members of their own species and other species. This variation provides the basis for selection of genotypes and varieties better suited to the provision of human needs, through providing trees and products better suited to purpose, or that produce goods and services in a more efficient manner, in a wider range of settings and against changing environmental conditions.
Whilst genetic diversity exists in almost all tree species, the extent to which this diversity is present in more important species (from economic, social or environment perspectives) and recognised, understood, documented, managed and utilized by humans will determine its value as a forest genetic resource. The future values of FGR will be determined by the way humans manage these resources and act, as the primary agents of environmental change in today’s world. We are therefore impacting and altering FGR values whether we are aware of it or not, through our use of trees and forest resources and alteration of environmental conditions, just as much as through our conscious efforts to better conserve and manage them.
Conservation and management of FGR are inextricably intertwined – conservation of FGR requires implementation of well planned, scientifically-sound strategies, including management of FGR in breeding programs and in production populations. Provision of forest-derived goods and services depends on the presence of FGR and also has implications for their survival. As noted by countries, maintenance of FGR is partly being achieved through many and diverse activities in which FGR C&M is not consciously or explicitly identified as a goal. Indeed this growing awareness of how our actions, of lack thereof, impact on FGR is a recurrent theme in country reports and this chapter. However for the purposes of this report, and given the imperative to understand that the future of FGR is dependent on conscious, effective human intervention through deliberate management, we use the term ‘management’ to describe deliberate planned actions taken to conserve and protect FGR.
The national reports describe a vast range of actions by countries to recognise, understand, document, manage, and conserve their FGR, against a backdrop of diverse biological, environmental, geographic, economic, political, administrative, social and cultural contexts. Rates of progress have depended on political understanding and will, and resources made available. Collectively the reported actions describe a developing global movement towards the conscious stewardship and sustainable use of these precious resources, accompanied by the protection and maintenance of the evolutionary processes that has produced this irreplaceable legacy. The reports represent a vital contribution to global understanding and appreciation of FGR, and through the identified strategic priorities will help guide future international action, led by FAO Forestry Department with guidance from its respected Panel of Experts on Forest Gene Resources since 1969 (Palmberg-Lerche 2007).
2.1.1Why FGR C&M is important: the social and economic value of conservation and breeding activities
Country reports listed a wide range of values of FGR and the resources derived from them, including economic, social, cultural, aesthetic, environmental values as well as biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of environmental and ecological services and processes. Economic/socio-economic values were the most frequently cited values used in most regions to prioritise species for FGR research, C&M with a large proportion of trees identified as priorities being of high commercial value, including widely planted, often exotic, industrial plantation species.
The economic value of forest industries recorded in the formal sector (such contribution to GDP, exports, employment) was provided in most country reports, but the values of forests and trees in the informal sector and contribution to rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation were not able to be addressed with precision. Whilst FGRs importance to the formal and informal forest economies; to social, cultural and environmental values, and for environmental services was noted in country reports, there were limited attempts to assign monetary values to any of its specific contributions.
Benefits from improved genetic materials - Planted forests, including agroforests, utilizing improved, better adapted and diverse germplasm directly contribute to improved economic well-being through increasing the output of superior forest products for lower inputs (e.g. labour, water and fertiliser), in a wider range of conditions and environments, with fewer losses to pests and diseases. FGR are the basis of tree improvement and improved forest plantation crops and countries in all regions reported significant gains in productivity and utility from improvement programmes and/or widespread use and adoption of improved materials. Increased yields of superior forest products generated at lower cost from genetically improved trees, can reduce the harvest pressure on natural forests, and allow them to be harvested in a less intensive, more sustainable manner better enabling them to fulfil service roles.
Forest ecosystem function, services and adaptation - Conserving and managing the variability of FGR in situ provides the basis on which selection and adaptation operates, and will better ensure continued ecosystem function and services. Indeed, adaptation to changing environmental influences requires a high degree of genetic diversity in tree species because of their immobility and perennial, long lived life forms. Forest genetic diversity helps ensure healthier, more resilient forests better able to deliver essential ecosystem service functions; e.g. well-forested catchments are better able to deliver a seasonally better-distributed supply of potable drinking water. Where forests have been degraded, the use of appropriate species and provenances, selected from the pool of natural variability maintained through effective FGR C&M, can assist with forest restoration efforts. Climate change is a major threat to agriculture, forestry, and biodiversity generally, through extreme climatic events, droughts, increases in temperature, more frequent and intense wildfire, and increased activity of pests and diseases. Climate threats to food security are already evidenced by an increase in disaster and famine response by international aid agencies. Under more extreme climatic conditions the use of trees and forests for food and fibre is likely to become even more important, e.g. due to increased risks of failure of rain-fed agriculture and annual crops. Effective FGR C&M takes on even greater significance against a background of climate change-induced drought and fire change and associated changes to forest structure and composition. It will be increasingly vital to provide the deepest possible reservoir of genetic variability on which natural and artificial selection can act, facilitating adaptation to the changed conditions
The role of trees in carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation are becoming increasingly recognised and valued. Recent estimates put the carbon storage of boreal forest at 703 gigatonnes, tropical forests at 375 gigatonnes and temperate forests at 121 gigatonnes. Mature, new and planted forests can sequester substantial amounts of carbon (see Ch 1). Eucalypt hybrids developed by Brazil with annual volume increments averaging 35 m3 per ha and sometimes exceeding more than 50 m3 per ha offer the potential for significant vegetative carbon sequestration. Brazil noted the likely importance of retaining healthy forests in situ (such Amazon forest) to maintain global climatic conditions that would maintain its competitive agriculture sector. The opportunities for simultaneously conserving FGR, reducing carbon emissions and generating income through the REDD+ schemes were noted by several countries.