Distinguished guests, participants, ladies and gentlemen
I feel extremely privileged to be able to address this gathering of learned forestry related scientists, economists, industrialists and entrepreneurs. I would first of all like to welcome all the participants to Myanmar and wish you all a pleasurable and memorable stay in our country.
This Second Regional Seminar on Teak is significant as it is being held in Myanmar, the home to the best teak in the world; and perhaps the only country that possesses a sizable expanse of natural teak forests. Myanmar's forestry management concepts are still very much based upon the management of natural teak forests; and the Myanmar selection system that was formulated over a century ago is still in practice today.
As we are aware, the forest resources of the world have declined at an alarming rate, causing a decrease in prime timber species also. This has brought about concerted efforts within the international community, to seek ways and means to conserve the environment through conservation of the world's remaining forests. Although much has been said and written, positive action to establish global cooperation through consensus is still lacking. But we the nations of the Asia-Pacific Region, and the tropical countries in general, are far ahead of the others, for we have established through the International Tropical Timber Council and the International Tropical Timber Organization, norms and guidelines for sustainable development of our forests, and made visible progress in regional cooperation.
We are gathered here today to discuss how best we can guarantee the perpetuity of teak, a premier all-round timber species; whose qualities are widely recognized; and perhaps the only species of timber that commands a unique position in the world market. The unmatched qualities of teak were recognized even in the early period of the Myanmar kings, as the teak trade pre-dated the arrival of the Europeans, and records show that locally built teak ships from southern Myanmar were being exported even as early as the 17th century. Teak was declared as royal property, and the natural teak forests managed systematically with extraction being carried out under the girdling system. Organized forest management was initiated in 1856 by the British after the annexation of lower Myanmar; and Sir Detreich Brandis adapted many of the prevailing practices into his management concepts.
Teak is known to occur naturally only in India, Myanmar, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Thailand. But it is known to have been cultivated quite extensively in four continents. The first Regional Seminar on Teak, held in China in March 1991, indicated that the forest area where teak occurs in the Asia-Pacific Region is not more than 25 million hectares. Issues placing pressure on sustainable management of both natural and planted teak are many and varied, and are increasing year by year, resulting in the shortfall in supply in the world markets. Some countries with favourable climatic conditions, realizing the economic potential of growing teak, have launched extensive plantation programmes. But the adverse affects of monoculture, problems of acquiring quality seeds, spacing and site matching have become increasingly apparent. It is therefore imperative that the producers and the consumers work together not merely to conserve the valuable teak species but also to improve its quality. For it is without a doubt that the quality of teak extracted from plantation forests cannot compare with the quality of teak extracted from natural forests.
Myanmar has a forest cover of about 33 million hectares, which is almost half its total land surface area. The forest cover consists mainly of natural forests, about two-thirds of which are teak bearing forests. Myanmar has been traditionally rich in natural resources, as we have never exploited them selfishly; but have laid more stress on conservation above exploitation, always taking into account the well-being of future generations. Although we possess large expenses of natural teak forests we have never over exploited our teak reserves for economic gains alone; but instead have utilized them conservatively. Our Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) for teak and other species is 1.3 million tons, making a total of about three million cubic meters only.
Reforestation in Myanmar has basically relied upon natural regeneration; and artificial regeneration was carried out on a complementary nature, in small plots mainly in abandoned slash and burn cultivation areas, applying the "Taungya System". A concerted plantation programme was carried out only in the early 1970s; and the present annual plantation target is set at 80,000 acres, out of which about 40 percent are for commercial plantations, mainly teak.
Myanmar, realizing the need for international and regional cooperation in order to achieve sustainable forest conservation and development, has been cooperating closely with neighbouring countries and countries within the region to share our knowledge and experience and assisting wherever possible; more specifically in the field of management of natural teak forests and utilization of elephants in timber harvesting, supplying of seeds (mainly teak and choice hardwood species), carrying out localized training in teak silvicultural practices and conducting "on the job training" for foresters from within our region.
We have also been receiving a lot of interest from many international non-governmental organizations who, realizing the richness of natural forest resources and biodiversity, have been cooperating with us in many fields, mostly in the management of nature and national parks, and conservation of wildlife. These organizations come from many parts of the world; The Smithsonian Institution, the Wildlife Conservation Society of New York, the Washington Park Zoo, and the Asian Elephant Specialist Group, to name but a few. We intend to extend the scope of this cooperation and have already established relations with some ornithology groups.
Myanmar is committed to shoulder its responsibilities concerning environmental and biodiversity conservation, by cooperating to the fullest, not only in the region but globally. There has been very little sub-regional and regional cooperation in tackling common issues such as deforestation, biodiversity conservation, controlling of unauthorized trading of timber and endangered species. We all need to understand that cooperation and collaboration between countries of the region is integral to the promotion of sustainable development of our forest resources. On its part Myanmar has made great economical sacrifices in preserving its natural forests, for we have all along recognized the fact that preservation of natural forests is the key to biodiversity conservation.
As this forum comprises a broad spectrum of professional foresters, industrialists and traders who have wide experience in forestry management and timber related industries, especially concerning teak, I am confident that they will be able to evolve the best ways and means by which this valuable timber species can be conserved so as to serve the long term interests of mankind. I wish you all success in your deliberations, and hope that you will be able to establish practical mechanisms and methodologies for future cooperation and collaboration.
In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the FAO Regional Office (RAPA) and the FAO regional projects, namely STRAP, FORSPA, and FORTIP for their initiatives and support to hold this seminar in Myanmar. I would also like to thank all those organizations and individuals who have contributed in various forms to make this seminar a success. I wish you all a fruitful visit and an enjoyable tour of our natural teak forests.