Distinguished experts and FAO colleagues
It is a great pleasure, on behalf of FAO, to welcome you all to this Forest invasive species regional strategy workshop. I am delighted that 26 representatives from ten countries in the region are participating in this workshop. I am equally pleased to learn that many of you are the leaders in the field, particularly in controlling the coconut beetle, a new scourge in the region.
I note one of the objectives of the workshop is to share experiences on the management of the coconut leaf beetle that is rapidly invading the region. This is timely, and a good follow-up to the Expert consultation on Coconut Beetle outbreak that was held in October 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. The stage is right to look at how the regional programme is developing, status of infestation in the individual countries, how effective the eradication programme has been, and what further courses of action are needed.
But over and above that, it is gratifying to learn that both forestry and agriculture specialists have come together to not only exchange views and findings on the management of the beetle, but are looking beyond – on how to develop a regional strategy in a multi-disciplinary manner to address invasive species. It is increasingly evident that activities in one sector can lead to difficulties in another. For a long time, foresters moaned about the loss of forests to expanding agriculture. Now, agriculturists are on the defensive, and are pointing to foresters as the source of some of their problems. Movement of forest plants across borders has accidentally introduced pests into agricultural crops.
Obviously the issue is not so clear cut – the literature is dotted with numerous examples which indicate the problems are manifold, and the sources of invasion can be equally and surprisingly numerous. One excellent example would be the introduction of the cane toads to control beetles that were destroying sugarcane crops in Australia. The toads failed to do the intended, but instead have become a major pest themselves. They are harming many of the native fauna. So, the problem cannot be blamed on one sector alone. Invasive species use myriads of entry routes: some were purposely introduced to solve a problem, but turned out to be pests. Others were introduced accidentally. And hundreds of others came with our packing boxes, pets, shoes, and more. As travel and movement of goods across the globe increase, the problems of invasive species are likely to multiply several fold.
Invasive species are not just an ecological concern, but also an economic one. Countries are spending millions of dollars in their control or entry. In the United States, the cost from invasive species was estimated at US$138 billion annually. They are also causing health problems, disrupting recreational areas, blocking water ways, affecting our agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and generally are posing severe problems to the environment. It is becoming increasingly difficult to control the problem of invasive species. I shudder at the thought of what will happen to whole industries if such an event takes place. If the South American leaf blight hits the rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, it would prove devastating to the region. The fungus Microcyclus ulei is no respecter of borders, and only very stringent controls have kept it out of the region so far.
So, I cannot emphasize further how important this workshop is for the region. It should provide, perhaps the first time ever, the opportunity for forestry and agriculture specialists to take a look beyond coconut beetles, and develop an Asia-Pacific strategy to work in a multi-disciplinary manner to address the problem of invasive species management. But before I close my brief remarks, let me bring attention to FAO’s long standing and rewarding collaboration with USDA Forest Service, APAFRI and CABI. We look forward to working together on this and various other initiatives. Even more, I am very pleased to learn that the Asia Pacific Forest Invasive Species (APFISN) is leading this initiative. My congratulations to the Network.
I wish you all the very best in your deliberations and discussions, and for a successful workshop.