Your Excellency, Lt. General Chit Swe, Minister of Forestry
Welcome to Yangon. For most of you coming here for the first time, you will find Yangon a city of gentle people, exotic pagodas, a city covered with sprawling greenery and at this time, with the coming of the monsoon, showered with colorful flowers and an abundance of exotic tropical fruits.
Let me begin by saying I am personally honored to be given the opportunity to address this gathering which shall deliberate on a jewel of a tropical tree species (teak, which as someone observed, has been a plundered world heritage. Teak as you all know is an invaluable natural resource that is in danger of extinction if no immediate and systematic steps are taken to sustain its development, by both governments, the private sector and other interested groups.
Allow me at this juncture to convey the apologies of Mr. Ubaidullah Khan, the FAO Regional Representative in Bangkok, and Mr. David Harcharik, the Assistant Director-General of Forestry Department in Rome for not being able to be with you today. They have specifically asked me to convey their most sincere thanks to Your Excellency, for your kind invitation. Regrettably, other commitments have prevented them from attending this meeting. However, many of their senior representatives are here with us today. Both Mr. Khan and Mr. Harcharik extend their best wishes to Your Excellency, and to all of you for what they consider will be a most successful Seminar.
This well-meaning attempt to bring together countries and their experts to deal exclusively with teak, and the unanimous acceptance of the concept of a regional teak network, came from the late Dr. Y.S. Rao, former Regional Forestry Officer at the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok and Senior Program Advisor to FORSPA, the Regional Project on Forestry Research Support Program for the Asia and the Pacific Region. In one of those seemingly insane twists of fate, he was killed in a terrorist bomb blast while an innocent passer-by in Bombay in March 1993.
His colleagues at RAPA, namely Mr. Kashio and Mr. Nair, have followed up his wishes and though it has been quite sometime since the first Seminar was held in China, the dedication of these disciples to carry on the broad vision and the tasks begun by Dr. Rao has made it possible for this Second Regional Seminar on Teak, taking place today. To honour the sincere wishes of the Honorable Minister Lt. General Chit Swe, it was agreed the venue for this Seminar be in Myanmar, the home of teak. I am confident the gathering will successfully deliberate the many issues relating to this resource; if we could draw up recommendations and guidelines that could further enhance the development of teak in countries in the region, that, to me could be our best homage to this great forester.
This forum is about teak and all of the participants are specialists in this field. I shall therefore resist the temptation to talk about the subject, but I would like to take this opportunity to reflect the concern today about the unrelenting assault on our life support system, particularly those that are taking place in our region.
As the 20th century draws to a close, developing countries in the Asia-Pacific Region face an unprecedented environmental crisis in the shape of forest destruction. In the last decade, the rate of deforestation has more than doubled. Going by FAO estimates, about 3.9 million hectares of forest are stripped of vegetation every year to make way for spontaneous and unplanned human settlement, marginal agriculture, and excessive commercial exploitation.
Among the forest areas deforested and degraded are those that contain teak. Every country must therefore take all possible measures if this trend is to be arrested and to ensure that teak is conserved and wisely used.
And I am happy to note that Myanmar has been very systematic in their forest management policies and practices to ensure that the forests of Myanmar will continue to be the legendary home of some of the best and the lasting remaining natural teak stands in the world.
On behalf of FAO, I would like to acknowledge with appreciation the support given by all those concerned in making this Seminar a success, in particular, that of the honorable Minister, whose enthusiasm and interest in the development of the forest sector is a source of inspiration to all of us.
UNDP has contributed significantly towards the organization of this Seminar through UNDP funded regional projects. UNDP's continued assistance and cooperation in support of the development of the rural sector, here and elsewhere, I am sure, is, based on the recognition of the need to combine all available expertise, resources and experience, in the promotion and implementation of sustainable human development. Both UNDP and FAO have agreed to strengthen their cooperation, as a way to help member countries, improve the living standard of the rural poor. We cherish this cooperation.
As I have indicated earlier our meeting here today is a testimony of our collective conviction in the continued effort to safeguard our life support system, through the sharing of ideas, experience and information.
Let me conclude by saying that sustaining this process will hold the promise of a new future.