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Origin of the Commission

Soon after the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the need to consider and initiate action on pressing problems prompted the organization to convene a series of regional forest conferences. Among these issues were war-induced damages to forests, particularly in Europe, local and international wood deficits hampering the reconstruction of housing, transportation infrastructure and industries, the urgency to fill the gaps in international forestry statistics and the need for regional coordination of forest policies.

The conferences for Europe and Latin America laid the groundwork for the establishment of the first two regional forestry commissions (RFCs) and served as a precedent to the delegates gathered in March 1949 at Mysore, India, on occasion of the Forestry and Timber Utilization Conference for Asia and the Pacific.1 The significance of this first inter-governmental meeting on forests in the Asia-Pacific region did not merely consist in its resolution to establish the Forestry and Forest Products Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The delegates considered the very outcome of their conference of such importance that they expressed a strong desire for a permanent mechanism with responsibility for monitoring progress in the implementation of the participants’ joint declaration.

From the outset, concerns about the "long-standing wood deficit, which in many parts of the world has had a pernicious effect for decades" were also expressed in the deliberations of the FAO Conference, the organization’s supreme governing body. The causes of this "critical situation" were said to include "deforestation, inadequate forest management, failure to develop mature forests, incomplete utilization and insufficient technical personnel." At the Second Session of the FAO Conference in 1946, delegates stressed that "great additional supplies of wood might be made available through developing the untapped forests in the tropics and through exploiting stands at present considered economically inaccessible by applying better logging methods and using modern equipment." To respond to the "urgent need for concerted action directed towards reforestation of denuded areas, the development of virgin forests and the establishment of forest industries," the participants requested the organization of an appropriate conference for the Asia-Pacific region.

Interest in tropical forests did not concentrate solely on their potential as an important source of raw material, although this role clearly dominated forest-related preoccupations at the time. The new organization equally recognized that "they offer a temptingly rich prize to destructive exploitation and in a very real sense constitute a challenge to FAO, since it is the only existing organization capable of assuming leadership in bringing about their protection." Partly in order to safeguard both the productive and protective functions of forests, FAO embarked on the preparation of a set of principles for a world forest policy; in this context, the Mysore Conference provided an opportunity for FAO to secure regional feedback, particularly since the delegates to the Third World Forestry Congress, held later that year in Helsinki, would officially request FAO to prepare a statement on "Principles of Forestry."

“In dedicating itself to the goal of freedom from want, FAO must devote a major effort to restoration of the world’s forests and to the effective use of their products."

FAO Conference, 1946

It was the threats to forests and their potential to supply timber and other materials, however, which proved to draw the most attention from the Mysore Conference participants.2 They stressed soil erosion as one of the most alarming problems and urged governments to set up central authorities concerned with planning, coordinating and carrying out all land utilization and conservation measures, including forestry. The tremendous demand for fuel and inexpensive timber, poles and other building materials was considered the second major problem for many countries. To help increase fuel and charcoal supplies, delegates suggested a number of measures, including afforestation programs with fast-growing species, legislation to ensure sound management of privately owned woodlands and, where they were not being used for the benefit of the community as a whole, the transfer of management responsibility to governments.

In their recommendations, the conference participants laid emphasis on

- measures for soil conservation and the control of erosion;

- control of grazing to prevent undue interference with forest growth;

- careful regulation of shifting agriculture by both nomadic and settled populations and its gradual replacement by systems of permanent agriculture;

- large-scale afforestation and reforestation; and

- the improvement and modernization of forestry practices in general.

In spite of the "economic and political tensions and difficulties now so widespread in the region, governments were urged to make plans for forest development, expansion and conservation."

Two issues that demonstrated the clear need for follow-up at the regional level, then as now, were common action on conservation problems relating to headwaters of great rivers and trade in forest products. On the latter, the participants noted that some countries in the region "do have surpluses of timber and other products which are not getting to the deficit countries." They recommended that FAO survey the import requirements and available export supplies with a view to arriving at a reasonable balance between total demand and total supplies within the region. Increased trade "should be vigorously promoted," which they argued would "necessitate an overhauling" of the trade policies of some countries.

To give substance to the resolutions of the Mysore Conference, the participants recommended the establishment of the Forestry and Forest Products Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The request was forwarded to FAO, where it was approved at the Fifth Session of the FAO Conference in November 1949. In his report on the work of FAO, then Director-General Norris E. Dodd noted that there had been a "striking intensification" of interest in forestry matters in countries of Asia and the Pacific. He encouraged the new commission at its First Session to give consideration to the aspects of national forest policies that have international significance and attempt to correlate the programs of governments for production and trade in the major commodities of concern to the region.

1 The European Forestry Commission held its first session in 1948; the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission in 1949; the Near East Forestry Commission in 1955; the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission in 1960; and the North American Forestry Commission in 1961.

2 The participants included Burma, Ceylon, France, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippine Republic, Thailand and the United Kingdom; Indonesia, Korea, Nepal, Portugal, the International Meteorological Organization, UNESCO and the Supreme Command-Allied Powers (for Japan) attended as observers. Note that throughout this book, the names of countries and territories used in this report reflect the common use at the time and not the expression of any political predisposition on the part of the author or FAO.

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