Ladies and gentlemen,
At the outset, allow me to extend, on behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, my warmest welcome to all of you assembled here, without a doubt some of the most outstanding leaders in the forestry sector in the Asia-Pacific region, and indeed beyond. It is truly a great pleasure and privilege for me to join my colleagues from both Headquarters and the Regional Office today in welcoming you all this morning, and to participate in the 21st Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission. I sincerely hope that this important meeting will continue the strong traditions of excellence in work, productivity, dialogue and cooperation established at preceding APFC sessions.
I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of FAO and the APFC Secretariat, to thank the Government of India, and particularly the Ministry of Environment and Forests, for their generosity in hosting this meeting. I also wish to thank the Government of Uttaranchal and the many forestry institutions based in Dehradun, which have been important collaborators in hosting the APFC session. We very much appreciate the excellent arrangements that have been made.
This 21st session of APFC involves a certain sense of homecoming for the Commission. In this wonderful Convocation Hall, I am sure I am allowed to dwell on a brief piece of history. Many of you may be unaware that in March 1949, the United Nations’ Forestry and Timber Utilization Conference for Asia and the Pacific convened in Mysore, India. The delegates considered the outcomes of this conference to be of such importance, that they expressed a strong desire for a permanent mechanism for such regional meetings and passed a resolution to establish a regional forestry commission. Thus, it is not inappropriate to say that APFC was born in India.
I should also note that the Fifth session of APFC was held in New Delhi, in February 1960. Almost half a century later we are indeed more than delighted to return to this great country, one of the world’s most populous countries with booming economies and FAO’s strategic partner in fighting against hunger for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Global Roles for FAO
Distinguished participants, colleagues,
Since the last APFC session, two years ago, FAO has continued to work strenuously to achieve its mandate – to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy.
The 1996 World Food Summit established a blueprint for eradicating hunger in all countries with the target of reducing by half the number of undernourished people by no later than the year 2015. This global commitment is enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals, in particular, Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, but also Goal 7, to ensure environmental sustainability.
Building on these goals, and to provide a mechanism to translate them into action in the Asia-Pacific region, the FAO Regional Office has developed a Regional strategic framework. Six thematic programme areas have been identified to guide collective actions for achieving the World Food Summit target. These are:
- restructuring of the agricultural sector;
- decentralizing governance in support of sustainable development;
- reducing vulnerability to disasters;
- promoting effective and equitable management, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources;
- strengthening biosecurity; and
- alleviating poverty in rice-based livelihood systems.
I emphasize these various themes and objectives, because the key focus for FAO, even in the context of forestry, is on food security and rural development. In fact this is brought out trenchantly by no one other than the late Jack Westoby, perhaps FAO’s most famous forestry staff member. He said:
“Forestry is not about trees, it is about people. And it is about trees only insofar as trees can serve the needs of people.”
Westoby’s words should continue to resound in our deliberations during this week. Because, we continue to face enormous challenges, both globally and in the region.
In January 2006, there were 45 countries in the world facing serious food shortages, including 11 in Asia and the Near East. In Asia and the Pacific, 16 percent of the population is undernourished: the actual number is approximately 548 million people. An enormous number of people need our help.
And further, with the kind of years we had since the last Session in Fiji in 2004 – the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the earthquake in North Pakistan, and the wide spread of avian flu – the difficulties are compounded even more.
Recent FAO Forestry activities
The FAO Forestry Department is helping to meet this challenge and my colleague, Dr. Killman, will shortly outline some of the activities being implemented at the global level.
However, some of FAO’s highest profile forestry work is being carried out in the Asia-Pacific region. It will come as no surprise that FAO continues to be heavily involved in reconstruction efforts following the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami. Particular focus has been given to rehabilitating coastal forests, including mangroves, helping affected families and communities re-establish trees in home gardens and village greening, and in the case of Indonesia, advising on timber supplies for reconstruction. FAO is also playing a major role in coordinating the efforts of various international and local organizations and facilitating the exchange of information needed for effective reconstruction and integrated coastal area management.
Last year, two works of global significance for forestry were published by the FAO’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Forests and floods: drowning in fiction or thriving in facts created its own media storm in challenging conventional wisdom with regard to forests and floods, and emphasizing the scientific evidence that indicates that deforestation plays a relatively small role in large-scale flood events.
In search of excellence: exemplary forest management in Asia and the Pacific was released under the APFC banner and has received widespread acclaim for drawing positive attention to some of the shining examples among generally gloomy perceptions of forests, and particularly the many people in the region devoting their lives to improving forest management.
FAO and its forestry programme will continue to strive to deliver a broad programme of assistance in forestry, aimed at improving the environmental, economic and social contributions of forestry to overall sustainable development.
The last Conference of FAO in November 2005 approved many of the Director General’s reform proposals, which will strengthen the operational capacity and the efficacy of the organization.
This on-going reform will no doubt introduce changes in how FAO responds to new and evolving developments and challenges in forestry and agriculture. It should lead to greater synergy in the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary functions undertaken by FAO at all levels.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, let me reiterate that the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission is of utmost importance both to FAO and to its Asia-Pacific member countries. It is an efficient mechanism for identifying the critical issues underlying forestry development and also for suggesting specifically what FAO, Governments and other partners can do to address them. In our view, it is one of the most valuable mechanisms for serving member countries.
Delegates have important tasks and challenges this week, and beyond. Nonetheless, I fully expect that this 21st Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission will continue the tradition of past sessions in demonstrating that by working together we can conserve and improve the forests of this great region and also manage them sustainably for the benefit of all people, in this generation and for generations to come.
We all believe in this, and all of you have dedicated your whole lives to this cause. You have the character to succeed. Wish you much success in this endeavour.
Thank you for your kind attention.