Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


The origin of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is commonly traced back to the 1943 Conference on Food and Agriculture in Hot Springs, Virginia, convened among allied powers at the initiative of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Much to the disappointment of foresters around the world, the Conference delegates initially decided not to include forestry among the mandates of FAO.

Some time later, however, President Roosevelt was flying from Cairo eastward when he looked down expecting to see the famous cedars of Lebanon. He was amazed to observe bare hills instead. The trees had been largely wiped out by centuries of deforestation and misuse, he was told. Back in Washington, President Roosevelt immediately prepared a note regarding the Food and Agriculture Organization (then still known as the Interim Commission): "Forestry most important. Request American delegation propose revision of FAO Statute and include it in FAO Charter" (cited in Hambidge, 1955). As a result, the Interim Commission set up the Technical Committee on Forestry and Primary Forest Products to formulate a work program for the new organization; when FAO’s founding members met in Quebec, Canada, in 1945, they made the final decision to include forestry. The Forestry and Forest Products Division initiated its work in June 1946 under Marcel Leloup as Director.

The establishment of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) as a subsidiary body of FAO was a direct outcome of the early work undertaken by the Organization’s Forestry Division, with which the APFC has evolved in close relation. As such, the story of the Commission not only reflects the development of FAO’s forest-related activities, but more broadly the unfolding of international forestry thinking and practice, and international development assistance. Due to the regional character of the organization, however, the relative emphasis given to prevailing issues has at times differed from international agendas.

The first 50 years of the APFC’s existence have been influenced strongly by periodic landmark events. These events provided the international community - in forestry and beyond - with chances to pause and reassess the nature and direction of its work. These events have usually followed periods of accelerating concern over the state of forests or the broader environment and have acted as stimuli for a wide range of activities in pursuit of newly found common ground. These landmark events include the 1949 Forestry and Timber Utilization Conference for Asia and the Pacific held in Mysore, India; the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment convened in Stockholm, Sweden; and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Mysore Conference marked the third in a series of regional FAO meetings that led to the creation of its regional forestry commissions. Preoccupied with the shortages of all types of forest products, threats to the resource base and the means by which these shortages could be overcome, the Conference participants developed resolutions that came to constitute a charter for forestry activities in the Asia-Pacific region. The APFC, founded in response to one of the delegates’ suggestions, was mandated to follow up on the Mysore Resolutions. In this, the APFC’s work in the 1950s and 1960s emphasized the resolution of technical problems related to the expansion of forest area and productivity, and measures for arresting resource decline. This period also witnessed the growth of international development assistance, which in turn spread a productivity-focused approach to forestry in developing countries.

The Stockholm Conference placed the environment on the international agenda in a major way for the first time and set the stage for international actions over the next 20 years. Environmental problems originating from industrialization, and their effects on people, dominated the talks. This new emphasis on the human element carried over into forestry, development assistance and the outlook of the APFC. At the same time, the worldwide recession of the early 1970s drove countries to increase harvesting, manufacturing and trade of forest products to generate badly needed foreign exchange. During the 1970s and 1980s, the APFC struggled to harmonize these difficult and somewhat incompatible issues. On the one hand, APFC members strove to incorporate environmental perspectives into forestry and rural development; on the other hand, countries focused on export-led growth and forest products trade. Both aspects featured prominently in APFC discussions and activities during this period.

The Rio Conference sought to reconcile the uneasy relationship that had existed between development and environment by underscoring that a country can neither achieve economic development when its environment is degraded, nor restore its environment without economic development. The concept of "sustainable development," previously developed by the World Commission on Environment and Development and publicized in the so-called "Brundtland Report," has since become the primary characteristic of development, including forestry. Correspondingly, the APFC devoted its efforts during the 1990s to monitoring follow-up to the Rio agreements and assisting its members in the implementation of sustainable development.

During the APFC’s first 50 years, the Commission has served as the region’s principal forum for forest-related issues. For most of this time, a number of APFC subsidiary bodies carried out a range of supportive activities. When external circumstances constrained the ability of these mechanisms to perform, the Commission’s recommendations became all the more forceful and in many cases led to FAO initiating key regional programs.

The Commission has periodically been challenged to reassess its roles and comparative advantages, particularly in view of the growing list of international organizations in the field of forestry. As it approaches its next 50 years, the APFC’s unwavering conviction that its mandate remains important and beneficial constitutes the best guarantee that its members and FAO can continue to expect the excellent services for which the Commission has come to be known.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page