Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

First steps: the 1950 inaugural session

The level of detail in the preceding overview of issues and opinions serves less as a preview to the depth into which this history of the APFC will delve (the remainder of the APFC’s evolution will proceed with more generous strides) than as a reminder of the prevailing mood and thinking in forestry at the time. It also provides an explanation for the nature of topics the APFC set out to address. While the enormous demand for forest products caused by the ravages of worldwide armed conflict had exacerbated local supply shortcomings, the central economic role played by governments as a result of the 1930s depression and wartime mobilization determined the dominant approach to addressing these problems.

Not surprisingly, the focus on government-orchestrated industrialization that characterized the philosophy in international development from the late 1940s left an indelible mark on forestry development around the globe. In the words of a founding member of the FAO Division of Forestry and Forest Products, "after the Second World War, foresters resumed their tasks in descending order of priority. The Third World Forestry Congress, held in Helsinki in 1949, focused on the problems of quantity and quality; in other words, on the forest as a source of raw materials (particularly timber and industrial wood)" (FAO, 1995).

The inaugural First Session of the Forestry and Forest Products Commission for Asia and the Pacific was held in Bangkok on October 9-17, 1950, where it was formally opened by His Excellency Phra Chuang Kasetr, Thailand’s Minister of Agriculture, and addressed by His Excellency Field Marshal P. Pibulsonggram, the country’s Prime Minister.3 Thirty-three senior-level delegates from 12 countries, and representatives and observers from specialized international governmental institutions and non-governmental organizations, attended the meeting at the invitation of the Director-General of FAO (see Annex B for a detailed list of participating countries and organizations). Initially, membership was defined as "those countries whom the Director-General shall invite to participate in its work." Although explicit provision was made in the Commission’s Rules of Procedure for the participation of "inter-governmental, specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations," the Rules also specified that the meetings would be held in private.

In this context, it should be borne in mind that the majority of participating countries at the Inaugural Session had only recently gained independence and become members of the FAO.4 Aside from the fact that few regional or international forestry-related fora existed at the time (the World Forestry Congresses and Commonwealth Forestry Conferences, the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations and the Pacific Science Association’s Standing Committee on Forestry were notable exceptions) the creation of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission provided these governments with the first opportunity to voice their distinct ambitions and concerns on a regional level. And this they did.

The delegates spent almost half of the First Session listening to oral reports5 of action taken in pursuit of the Mysore resolutions, which were looked upon as a charter for forestry activities within the region, where countries were seen to fall into four groups, each with particular conditions:

"In China, India, Pakistan and Ceylon, forest resources are extremely limited, while populations were very large. Burma, Indochina and Indonesia are relatively rich in forest resources, but political conditions since the war have hampered re-establishment of forest output; so too in the case of Korea before the present conflict started. Malaya, British Borneo, New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand are also rich in forests, and here postwar recovery has been rapid. Japan is a category by itself, since it is the only country in the region which has both large forest resources and highly developed and diversified woodworking industries. Australia and New Zealand have much to offer in experience and are very important exporters and importers of timber."

The criteria used for this classification reflect the preoccupations of foresters during the 1950s on increasing the quantity and quality of forests with a view to expanding timber production and trade. Accordingly, the APFC included in its work program efforts to provide information on the procurement of logging and sawmill machinery, initiatives to reduce shipping rates for transporting forest products, coordination of research on pulping of tropical woods, and the establishment of a mechanism for exchanging forest seeds among member countries. The work program also called for the compilation of annual progress reports from member countries dealing with the place of forestry in the national economy, in particular giving details of forest revenue and direct expenditures on improvement and development of the national forest estate.

To further highlight the urgency for extending forest areas and increasing forest products output, the Commission recommended that "all member countries, with FAO assistance, base their immediate and long-range forest management and utilization programmes on the integration of primary and secondary forest industries where possible, aiming, within the limits of economic practicability, at the fullest and most efficient use of all forest products, including the utilization of logging and manufacturing waste." To facilitate the planning of such development programs, the APFC delegates agreed that the Commission Secretariat should compile statistics concerning timber price trends and asked member governments to supply statistical material annually.

The discussions of the second major item on the agenda were to result in one of the Commission’s most significant achievements during its early period. When asked one day by a disciple, "If a king were to entrust you with a territory which you could govern according to your ideas, what would you do first?" Confucius replied, "My first task would certainly be to rectify the names." He explained, "If the names are not correct, if they do not match realities, language has no object. If language is without an object, action becomes impossible - and therefore, all human affairs disintegrate and their management becomes pointless and impossible. Hence, the very first task of a true statesman is to rectify the names."

The corresponding impetus for our story was provided by the Technical Meeting on Standardization of Nomenclature, Terminology, Testing Methods, Grading and Dimensions of Timber, which was held five months prior to the APFC’s First Session. At that meeting, participants clearly placed their hopes for finding a common language in their trade on the newly established regional forestry commission. In response, the APFC promptly created relevant subsidiary bodies to take up the challenge (see Annex C for a complete list of APFC subsidiary bodies). Their accomplishments will be explored in Chapter 4.

The most explicit manifestation of the APFC’s regional character was reflected in the Commission’s deliberations on the "Principles of Forest Policy" drawn up by FAO at the request of the Third World Forestry Congress. While accepting the FAO principles as "a minimum on a world-wide basis," the delegates adopted a separate statement defining these principles with regard to the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, they recognized "the vital role which forests play in the maintenance of the physical and climatic conditions of a country, particularly their protective influence on the soils and their stabilizing effect on water regimes; that forests constitute an indispensable adjunct to agriculture which forms the chief occupation of the bulk of the population of most countries in the region; and the part which forests play in the sustenance of industry, maintenance of communications, organizations of defense and other aspects of the economic life of a country."

In all but one instance, the APFC’s separate statement sought to emphasize the most salient points of the Forest Principles, particularly with regard to soil conservation and the close link to agriculture. The only exception foreshadowed the difficulties many of the region’s governments and foresters would come to face in dealing with shifting agriculture, as well as the criticism they would often attract in the process. The APFC recommended that "the satisfaction of the rights of user, privileges and bona fide needs of the local population should be subordinated (a) to the overriding necessity for maintaining ‘Protection Forests’ where interests to be protected far outweigh the interests it may be necessary to restrict; (b) to the wider interests such as national defense of the country as a whole in the ‘Production Forests’; and (c) to their own interests in the ‘Agricultural Forests,’ to save these forests from annihilation."

“The management of forests [must] ensure their protective and accessory functions not only in the interests of the existing generation but also in the interests of those to come.”

APFC, 1950

If the time for foresters to start reconsidering their roles vis-à-vis rural communities had not yet arrived, there was at least a strong consensus on the need to study these issues and exchange information and opinions on a regional level. Accordingly, the APFC delegates incorporated into their program of work a study of the problems of shifting agriculture and the dissemination of information regarding its control, as well as a study of the possibility of coordinating forest research and using existing research and educational facilities on a regional basis.

Finally, the APFC members affirmed their interest in technical cooperation through the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance (EPTA), the evaluation of which would become an important mandate of the APFC. The EPTA was a response to United States President Truman’s "Point Four proposals," which he had hinted at in his 1949 address to the Fourth FAO Conference. Only a few months before the First APFC Session, at a UN Technical Assistance Conference, FAO received the largest single share among UN agencies of the contributions pledged by the attending governments. In anticipation of one of the most persistent problems in international development, the APFC urged FAO "to exert every effort to coordinate its program with bilateral programs of the United States of America, the Commonwealth Technical Cooperation Scheme and the programs of other governments and international agencies."

When the APFC’s first Chairperson, Prince Suebsukswasti Sukswasti of Thailand, formally closed the First Session at the end of the ninth day, the framework for the new organization’s mission had been given shape through the deliberations of the region’s highest-level foresters. Two years later, the Commission would add a preamble to its Rules of Procedure stating that "the purpose of the Commission is to coordinate national forest policies on the regional plane, to the extent that this is proved desirable; to exchange information and views on technical forestry problems of the region; and to make appropriate recommendations to Governments and the Director-General of FAO."

3 The name of the Commission was subsequently changed to Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission.

4 These nations included Burma (independent in January 1948 from the UK; joined FAO in September 1947), Ceylon (February 1948 from the UK; joined FAO in May 1948), India (August 1947 from the UK; joined FAO in October 1945), Indonesia (August 1945 from the Netherlands; joined FAO in November 1949) and the Philippines (July 1946 from the USA; joined FAO in October 1945). Vietnam (September 1945 from France; joined FAO in November 1950), Cambodia (November 1949 from France; joined FAO in November 1950) and Laos (July 1949; joined FAO in November 1951) were represented by the French Union because they had not yet become FAO members.

5 The delegates decided that for future sessions, countries would be requested to prepare written progress reports in a predefined format.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page