Rome 18 July 2016. The twenty third session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) has opened in Italy with some 600 delegates recognizing the growing role of forests and sustainable forest management in achieving internationally agreed development goals.
In his opening remarks to the Committee on Forestry, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said “the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, recognizes that we can no longer look at food security and the management of natural resources separately. Both agreements call for a coherent and integrated approach to sustainability across all agricultural sectors and food systems. Forests and forestry have key roles to play in this regard”.
COFO 23 along with the 5th World Forest Week (WFW) is taking place at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy from 18-22 July under the theme: ‘Shaping a new agenda for forests’. It takes place at a watershed moment for the international community and in particular for African countries. Since its last Session in Rome, high rates of deforestation and forest degradation in Africa have brought intense focus not only on the issues of food security and agriculture but also on the increasing role of sustainably managed forests as drivers of economic development. The uncontrolled scramble for land continues to constrain crop production and has once again profiled the continent’s need to amicably balance food, fibre and fuel production on the available land. Added to this are the adverse effects of climate change and variability that have also exemplified the importance of conserving forests not for biodiversity protection and hydrology enhancement, but to also secure food production.
Many outstanding initiatives on the African continent have facilitated progress towards shaping development policies and sustainable forest management practices to address these issues; a notable one  is the ‘Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative’ (GGWSSI), a pan-African programme launched by the African Union in 2007. Its goal is to reverse land degradation and desertification in the Sahel and Sahara, boost food security and support local communities to adapt to climate change; and in this way develop long-term solutions to the urgent problems of land degradation and desertification in this region.
The African Forest Forum has also placed emphasis on issues of land degradation, desertification, climate change and livelihoods. In this regard its activities revolve around the interconnections between science-policy-management. It is in this context that AFF shares the aspirations of COFO23. Delegates to COFO 23 have a unique opportunity to showcase progress on addressing these issues and make tangible contributions from individual expertise and corporate approaches to these challenges. 
COFO is the highest FAO Forestry statutory body; it meets once every two years, bringing together heads of forest services, senior government officials and representatives from international organizations and civil society; to identify emerging policy and technical issues, to seek solutions and to advise FAO and others on appropriate action.