The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) was created by treaty in 1983 with the objective of providing an effective framework for consultation among producer and consumer member countries on all aspects of the world tropical timber economy. ITTO brings together 56 member nations with interests in the trade of tropical timber and the management of tropical forests. The organization's task is to foster a tropical timber trade that simultaneously contributes to development in tropical countries and conserves the tropical forest resource on which the trade is based (www.itto.or.jp).
ITTO has pioneered the development of criteria and indicators (C & I) for the sustainable management of natural tropical forests. These are designed to assist tropical countries in assessing and reporting on compliance with forest management standards. A criterion describes a state or situation that should be met in order to comply with sustainable forest management. Seven criteria are identified as essential elements of sustainable forest management: criterion 1, Enabling Conditions for Sustainable Forest Management, is concerned with the general legal, economic, and institutional framework without which actions included under the other criteria could not succeed. Criteria 2 and 3 on Forest Resource Security and Forest Ecosystem Health and Condition, respectively, are concerned with the quantity, security, and quality of forest resources. The remaining four criteria deal with the various goods and services provided by the forest - Flow of Forest Produce, Biological Diversity, Soil and Water, and Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects. The indicators have been carefully identified and formulated so that a change in any one of them would give information that is both necessary and significant in assessing progress towards sustainable forest management. Wherever possible, quantitative indicators have been suggested, but, in some instances, this is impossible or prohibitively expensive. Where this is the case, qualitative or descriptive indicators are provided.
The purpose of ITTO's C & I is to provide member countries with an improved tool for assessing changes and trends in forest conditions and management systems at the national and forest management unit levels. These indicators identify the information needed to monitor change, both in the forest itself (outcome indicators) and in the environmental and forest management systems used (input and process indicators). The information generated using these C & I in assessing the state of the forest helps policy-makers to communicate their efforts towards sustainable forest management more effectively to the public. It can also assist in developing policies and strategies for sustainable forest management, in focusing research efforts where knowledge is still deficient, and in identifying those areas that are in special need of international assistance and cooperation.
The incorporation of ITTO's C & I in the national policies of many member countries is a major achievement, but implementing them at the forest level remains an enormous challenge (ITTO 2003a). Since ITTO undertook its pioneering work in the early 1990s, several international and regional initiatives on criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management have emerged, stemming from the UN Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. These initiatives involve more than 100 countries and include the Pan-European Helsinki Process, the Montreal Process for temperate and boreal forests, the Tarapoto Proposal for the Amazon, and regional initiatives for Dry-Zone Africa, the Near East, Central America, and the African Timber Organization (ITTO 2003b). In February 1997, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development's Intergovernmental Panel on Forests endorsed the concept of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management and called on all countries to become involved in implementing them.
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