Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I had the distinct honor to participate in the 21st session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission in Dehradun, in April this year. I therefore know from first-hand experience about the important role the Commission plays in building consensus to guide forestry development in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as FAO’s work in forestry in the region. FAO gives great importance to the regional forestry commissions and we are actively working to make the commissions more dynamic, more responsive, and with more “ownership” by the member countries. More broadly, let me assure you that FAO is well aware of the significant contributions that forestry can make by underpinning agricultural productivity and sustainability, improving livelihoods and supporting economic development.
The Asia-Pacific region today accounts for almost 60 percent of the world’s total population. This implies huge responsibilities that fall on our shoulders. About 70 percent of the world’s rural population lives in our region. Many of them depend on forest resources, as the per capita arable and permanent cropland availability in the region is only 0.16 ha, compared to 0.37 ha in the rest of the world. Thus, the importance of being able to “see the people for the trees” should be very evident.
The eminent forester Jack Westoby reminded us, in a speech he delivered almost 40 years ago, of the following, which I hope will guide your deliberations during the two-day meeting:
“Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as trees can serve the needs of people”.
The high pressure on forest resources remains a major concern. Today, only about 19 percent of the region’s land area retains forest cover, equivalent to less than 0.15 hectare per person – the lowest level for any region.
I have been told that over the last five years the region as a whole has experienced a net increase in forest area. This is a remarkable turnaround that we in the region should be quite proud of, although we should not forget that the improvement is due mainly to massive investments in forest plantations in a small number of countries. The vast majority of countries in our region are still plagued by very serious deforestation and forest degradation problems. Hence, as you know better than I, the task before us – while not insurmountable – is still tremendous.
We have all heard the slogan “Think globally, act locally”. Globalization and its impacts are on everybody’s mind. It has certainly affected the forestry sector. While it has become fashionable to think and talk “globally”, I would like to use the opportunity to remind you also “Think regionally, act locally”. Global forestry issues affect regions in different ways. The APFC is a most appropriate body to consider the roles of regional organizations, mechanisms and processes in advancing actions, to be taken in the Asia-Pacific region, on issues raised in global dialogues on sustainable forest management. At the same time, it is in a very good position to foster increased interaction between global and regional discussions of forests.
I welcome the significant efforts the Commission has initiated in the area of codes of practice for forest harvesting and in establishing the Asia-Pacific Forest Invasive Species Network. The Second Asia-Pacific Forestry Sector Outlook Study was initiated recently and will keep the Commission busy throughout 2007, among other important activities.
I have also been informed that this Executive Committee meeting includes an open session this afternoon, which will enable a wider group of forestry stakeholders, mainly partners based here in Bangkok, to share their thoughts on forestry issues, and on where the sector is heading. The broader participation of civil society in decision-making is crucial to sustainable forest management and I am pleased that this has also been considered for your meeting.
I look forward to learning about the outcome of your important discussions. Let me reiterate the high importance that FAO gives to the regional forestry commissions and to giving decision-making authority and “ownership” of the commissions to the member countries, including through vibrant and strong Executive Committees.
I wish you all the very best in your deliberations, and for a successful meeting.