The time is right to learn from past experiences and build a second-generation of “National Forest Programmes”

By Alexander Buck, Helga Pülzl and Ewald Rametsteiner

national-forest-programmes-img-2457Since their conception more than two decades ago, national forest programmes (NFP) have become widespread forest policy frameworks internationally. The management of most of the world’s forests is now governed by different types of NFPs to some degree. Hence NFPs present certain governance practices that all countries are interested to have. Yet, the overall picture regarding the impact of NFPs as national forest governance frameworks on sustainable forest management remains ‘fuzzy’.

Available information (e.g. FAO 2012, Arts et al. forthcoming) suggests that NFP processes have led to the establishment of a series of practices that challenge “traditional” forest policy-making processes by emphasizing the inclusion of private and non-state actors, the involvement of sectors outside forests, iterative and adaptive planning processes, as well as monitoring its implementation procedures. However, the information about these innovations remains patchy as not many NFP processes have been analysed in detail and their qualitative impact is thus unclear.

Notable differences exist among countries around the globe regarding the degree to which these NFPs processes have evolved or ‘matured’. While several countries (such as Finland and Austria) already find themselves in the second round of rather well-grounded and institutionalized NFP processes, other countries have only recently initiated formal NFP processes. Again others are about to start such a process and would be interested to learn about potential best practices, but also possible failures in order to avoid pitfalls.

In contrast to the rather universal progressive uptake of the concept of NFPs at a policy level, research collaboration on NFPs has shown a decreasing tendency in past years. For instance, NFPs have not been the subject of any Europe-wide research collaboration in recent years but only individual researchers analyse respective national NFP processes. A wider comparative perspective that analyses as to how far NFPs have lived up to their ideal-type description, and experiences with implementing different principles of NFPs, is still lacking.

Against this background and the current global and regional forest policy negotiations, a more systematic evaluation of experiences gained and lessons learned with NFPs would be useful. Such a review at the political level should ideally be based on, or accompanied by, a scientific review on the extent and degree of application of the NFP concept and its impacts, and an analysis of supporting and impeding factors to the implementation of the different NFP principles. This review would also provide an opportunity to take advantage of recent scientific work undertaken under the umbrella of IUFRO on policy learning.

NFPs have proven to be a key tool for promoting SFM in a more holistic, participatory way. Its principles are as valid in 2015 as they were when they were first agreed globally almost 20 years ago. The review of the International Arrangement on Forests, the negotiations on Sustainable Development Goals and a post-2015 development agenda, and the deliberations on a legally binding agreement on climate change make the year 2015 a crucial one for forest policies at global level. Integrating these different aspects in more consistent and holistic governance frameworks has been one of the ambitious dreams of the initial promoters of NFPs. With the information gained on what works and how (and what doesn’t), perhaps the time is right to learn from these experiences, and build a second-generation “NFP”, with a view to contributing significantly to achieving global sustainability goals.

This blog article constitutes an excerpt from a paper prepared for presentation at the international conference “Challenges and Opportunities of Forestry in 21st Century” (17-18 June 2015 in Sekocin Stary, Poland).

The full paper and related PowerPoint presentation are available for download at: and