The Asia-Pacific Region, encompassing about 3,001 million ha of land and occupying 23 % of the world's total land area, is the home of 3,035 million people, 56.3 % of the world's population in 1991. Of the world's population increase of 498 million between 1980-90, 488 million births were recorded in developing countries. With between 50 % and 90 % of the population in these countries is engaged in the agricultural sector, land scarcity issues have been a big problem which intensifies with every passing year.
The Region's 655 million ha of forests and woodlands, of which 361 million ha exist in the tropical and sub-tropical countries, constitute 17 % of the world's total land area. It is generally observed that 'agricultural land' and 'forests and woodland' have an inverse relationship, because forests and woodlands have met most of the new demands of the farmers. An FAO study on soil types and potential uses indicated that only 14-18 % of the region's soils have no serious limitations and are suitable for sustainable agricultural production, suggesting that in most developing countries agricultural land use has exceeded safety margins and caused the degradation and deforestation of natural tropical forests. FAO's global forest resources assessment in 1990 clearly confirmed this trend; the deforestation rate increased from 2.0 million ha per year between 1976-80 to 3.9 million ha per year between 1981-90.
The depletion of natural forests and the malfunctioning of forest ecosystems triggered a series of environmental, social and economic problems, such as: 1) frequent floods, droughts and landslides; 2) soil erosion and siltation; 3) the loss of biodiversity; 4) changing climatic patterns; and 5) shortage of water, timber, fuelwood and fodder. Rural populations, the majority of whom are impoverished, have become more susceptible to environmental hazards.
Awareness of the adverse effects of deforestation has brought changes in development policies and management planning on land use, agriculture, forestry and rural development. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, marked a turning point towards sustainable forest use and other improved natural resources management. The conservation and wiser and more efficient utilization of natural tropical forests, including efforts to increase forest plantations, have become a global consensus and a national priority in the developing countries' forestry sectors.
Teak, one of the highest quality tropical timber trees, has for over 100 years occupied a special place in some nations in the Region as a key species in the tropical forest management. Several countries' long tradition and experience in handling teak, both in natural forests and plantations, has stimulated great interest from foresters, industrialists and traders in other countries. Thus, the demand for scientific knowledge, management know-how, new processing technologies, and more information on the teak trade have been continually growing in recent years.
For all of these reasons, FAO has paid special attention to teak and has organized today's seminar in Myanmar, a country which holds a long tradition of teak forest management and is presently the only country able to supply a sizable amount of teak logs to the world market.