Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

OPENING ADDRESS
by
He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
delivered at the
POVERTY REDUCTION IN UPLAND COMMUNITIES IN THE MEKONG REGION
THROUGH IMPROVED COMMUNITY AND INDUSTRIAL FORESTRY

3-5 March 2004, FAO Regional Office




Mr Javed Hussain Mir
Mr Alastair Fraser
International consultants
Distinguished guests
Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure, on behalf of FAO, to welcome you all to this Initiating Meeting. And thank you for this opportunity to offer a few remarks as well. Collectively, we are all in agreement that poverty eradication is an extremely important developmental issue. Indeed, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is the first and foremost United Nations Millennium Development Goal for the new millennium. The target is to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by half by the year 2015. Poverty reduction strategies are thus becoming the framework for development planning and implementation, and are guiding the operations of many donors and international development agencies.

In this context, the role of forestry is extremely critical. FAO has pointed out that 1.2 billion people in developing countries depend on trees on farms to generate food and cash, 350 million people live in or next to dense forests and rely on them for subsistence or income, and millions more depend entirely on tropical forests for their survival – they have no where else to go. This clearly emphasizes how intensely human beings, especially those poorer ones, are dependent on trees and forests for survival. This brings to question – are people impoverished because they are dependent on the forests? I wish to disagree; if we do things right, forests represent a vast pool of wealth to uplift the poor from their misery.

I therefore see the efforts being undertaken by ADB, CIFOR, FAO and others in this joint initiative to employ forests to bring about poverty reduction in the upland communities in the Mekong region important. As we all know, the population in the Greater Mekong countries of Cambodia, Yunnan of China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam has increased by more than 60 million people in the last two decades, and is now around 200 million. This growth in human populations is negatively correlated with forest loss - relentless deforestation and degradation have affected over 1 million ha annually. More than 75 percent of the people in the Greater Mekong area live in rural areas – for them forestry is vital for survival. The forests provide almost all or supplement their daily needs of food, shelter and medicine. Besides, the forest industries have provided additional employment in harvesting and processing. Eco-tourism is another growth area. All these are in danger of disappearing if the present trend of forest loss persists. Added to that, the loss would further result in deterioration of the environment and bring about misery to the lands, either in the form of flashfloods or extended droughts. The suffering is only likely to increase.

We therefore face a critical task – not only to protect the environment, but also to raise the quality of life for the rural poor. This initiative in the Greater Mekong region, the focus of our discussions for the three days, would indeed hold much value for the region. Not that this is the first time that large projects on tree plantations are being conceived for the region. That has been done before. More to the point, the present objective is to bring about a reduction in rural poverty using forest plantations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me state that this won’t be easy. Planting trees is the easy part. But to bring about the conditions whereby these plantations would confer benefits to the poor requires much innovative thinking on our part, change in the way governments see their role as benefactors, and society as a whole in addressing both poverty and environmental problems. But there is one condition though – we cannot afford to fail.

Looking at who is assembled here, dear colleagues, about the best professionals in the field of forestry, financing and economics that we can find in the region, I feel assured that indeed will be the result.

But before I close my brief remarks, let me bring to your attention once again that we – ADB and FAO have cooperated extensively in the past, and were instrumental for some very important developments in the region. The present collaboration with ADB, CIFOR and FAO is bound to be even more rewarding, from the standpoint of adding to our understanding, and ultimately bringing about the desired improvements so much needed in the region.

Towards this quest, let me remind you that FAO has for well over five decades led the task of bringing about both forestry and social development. In case we forgot, the first director-general of FAO, Sir David Orr in his foreword to the first issue of Unasylva wrote about “One world, one forest,” and that the tie between forests and the good things on earth runs back through history. Since then, FAO has continued to work on improving the well-being particularly of the poor in the world. In 1978, at the Eighth World Forestry Congress in Jakarta, our theme was “Forests for People.” This represented a landmark in the world’s thinking about the role of forests in the welfare of rural communities. Since then, FAO has devoted considerable efforts and resources towards ensuring both the conservation of the world’s forests and making sure its benefits reach the poorest of the poor. In continuation of these efforts, the theme of the recent World Forestry Congress (32nd Session, 2003) was “Forests, source of life,” which envisioned a future where forest resources can be used to address social justice and bring economic benefits to the poor. In view of latest emerging global developments, FAO’s recent Conference (December 2003) added a new strategy for forestry with the formulation of a technical project on “Forests, Poverty Alleviation and Food Security.” Today’s discussions would further complement the activities planned or being undertaken by FAO. It therefore brings me much pleasure to have all of you distinguished colleagues here to join us in this noble endeavour. At the end of the day, what ever we do, people matter most.

I wish you all the very best in your deliberations and discussions, and for a successful project FAO will place all its resources in this pursuit.

Dear colleagues, my very best wishes to you all.

Thank you.