Dr. Michael Cole
Dr. Ken Old
Mr. Wu Jian
Mr. Patrick Durst
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure, on behalf of FAO, to welcome you all to this Eucalyptus Rust Regional Strategy Workshop. And thank you for this opportunity to offer a few remarks as well. The world now has more than 180 million hectares of forest plantations, and the area continues to grow rapidly. Considering the developments in the last two decades, a sizable proportion of new plantations are going to be established in the Asia-Pacific region, which already contains more than 60 percent of the global total. In the next couple of decades plantations will come to dominate the timber industry. Already, more than half the timber “legally” produced in countries of the Asia-Pacific is sourced from plantations. At the same time, the number of species used for industrial wood production is decreasing, and with advances in genetic engineering, this will likely be further constrained to a handful of species and fewer varieties. This increased concentration will eventually lead to an environment where pest and disease outbreaks can become catastrophic. This risk increases as movement of planting material and trade, especially trade in wood products, becomes globalised. If timber harvested in one continent is found in log yards of another a few weeks later, we are creating conditions that expose any susceptibility to invasive species.
This fear of catastrophic pest outbreaks in exotic plantations is prompting some groups to advocate usage of indigenous species in plantation establishment. So far, the latter do not give us much scope as far as wood production on an economic scale is concerned. The exotics are here to stay. Under the circumstances, we will have to find ways to ensure these plantations are protected from devastating pest and disease outbreaks. But we don’t have to look far for solutions. The rubber and oil palm plantations, all exotic to the Asian region, have become successful agricultural (and more latterly forestry) crops. How did the agriculturalists succeed? For a start, movement of planting material is very carefully controlled, and stringent quarantine measures are observed. Great care is applied to plantation hygiene. Both monitoring and disease control measures are applied vigorously. Above all, R&D support for cash crop plantations has remained very focused and effective. I foresee developments in forest plantations taking the same route.
In this regard, the timely identification of the potential problem of Eucalyptus rust is a case in point. It has begun to cause serious problems in the New World. While there have been no confirmed reports of the rust incidence in the Asia-Pacific region, building awareness of the problem, what symptoms to watch out for, how to manage an infestation and – better still – how to stop the pest from entering the region are critical issues. The timeliness of this workshop is important; the threat is being discussed before the signs of the problems are here. There is nothing like prevention over cure.
But to bring about this timely intervention, several organizations have played very critical roles. ACIAR, together with colleagues from CSIRO, first recognized the seriousness of the threat, secured initial funding for the workshop, and called upon international experts to present their findings. FAO, under the direction of APFC, has undertaken the responsibilities for hosting the workshop in Bangkok. Adding strength to this collaboration, the Asia-Pacific Forest Invasive Species Network has assumed the task of disseminating news of this event region-wide, and inviting wider participation. It is interesting and exciting to know that such a dedicated network on invasive species is now in place in the region. Considering the subject area, its tasks are likely to grow.
The role of networks has not been fully appreciated in Asia and the Pacific and, as a consequence, the medium has rarely been effectively utilized. I strongly believe APFISN will demonstrate the exciting possibilities offered by networks. In fact, across town, at this very moment, a roundtable meeting of the Asia-Pacific Regional Alliance Against Hunger is convening to discuss the potential benefits of networking between networks.
For all the organization and effort, the final worth of the workshop will depend on the people assembled here. I have to offer my appreciation and applaud the speakers – easily the top scientists in their respective fields – assembled here to share their wisdom and expertise. Likewise, to the participants from the government agencies and the private sector – you are all indeed the leaders carrying out the difficult task of enriching this region with valuable timber plantations. Together, the ingredients for a worthwhile and exciting workshop are already here. But even more critical is what follows the workshop? Here again, I must refer to APFISN – its role is just beginning.
But before I close my brief remarks, let me bring to your attention once again that FAO’s collaboration with ACIAR and CSIRO has been a deep, rewarding and lasting one. We look forward, together with APFSIN, to continue to work together, and make the region rich in forestry resources. FAO is devoted in this endeavor, and thanks all of you for joining in its efforts to bring about sustainable development in the region.
I wish you all the very best in your deliberations and discussions, and for a successful workshop.