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Beyond Mysore: moving forestry to a regional plane in the 1950s and 1960s

Membership and governance
Forest policy in the region
Forestry statistics and outlook studies
Silviculture and wood utilization
Watershed management and shifting cultivation
Education and training

During the period encompassing the first Eight Sessions (1950-1969), the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission became the region’s most important forum dealing with forest-related issues. Following the tradition established at the Inaugural Session, the APFC meetings continued to attract the attendance of its members’ most senior representatives from the public forest sector. Their participation assured that deliberations would be based on first-hand information and greatly increased the likelihood that recommendations would be followed up in their home countries. It also illustrated the importance APFC member countries gave to the benefits accruing from regional coordination of forestry issues. Furthermore, the APFC became an indispensable link between FAO and its member countries, particularly for FAO field activities.

As a statutory body of FAO, the APFC’s evolution has been intrinsically linked to institutional, budgetary and policy changes at FAO Headquarters, Regional Offices and Country Representations. The roles of regional forestry commissions (RFCs) were periodically on the agenda of the FAO Conference and Council (the governing body between Conference sessions), and Conference and Council decisions were frequently debated at APFC meetings. The usefulness of the RFCs was recognized early on. In 1957, Conference delegates noted that "one development which has specially proved its merit over the past years was the organizational machinery represented by the regional forestry commissions and other subsidiary bodies" and asked the Director-General to take RFCs’ views and recommendations into account.

Two years later, the Conference reiterated this point of view and suggested "the RFCs and their subsidiary bodies should play an increasingly important role in providing member countries with opportunities to discuss together, at a regional level, problems of mutual concern [...] and serve to ensure that due weight is given by governments to forestry in land use planning and that the role of forestry is kept in proper perspective in relation to all other forms of land use."

Beginning in the late 1950s, the relationship between FAO (at the global level) and the APFC entered a more difficult phase. On one hand, budgetary allocations became irreconcilable with the Commission’s ambitious recommendations for development assistance and its own work program, particularly since the APFC Secretariat, financed and staffed by FAO, was unable to assume all the tasks assigned to it by the Commission. The APFC members argued that better use of technical assistance resources could be made if projects were implemented on a regional level, rather than in individual countries, and if donor coordination was improved. In view of the apparent shortage of experts from the usual sources, the Commission also suggested that FAO should hire staff for field projects from developing countries themselves.

At the same time that APFC members were calling for increased regionalization of forestry development activities, many forestry issues graduated from regional to international agendas. FAO’s institutional response suddenly rendered the continued existence of numerous APFC subsidiary bodies unnecessary. The most significant event was the creation of the Committee on Forest Development in the Tropics (CFDT) in 1965, which led to the demise of six relatively active subsidiary bodies of the APFC (see Annexes C and D for a detailed list of APFC’s and FAO’s subsidiary bodies). Because of limitations on membership in the new international bodies, a feeling of under-representation among Asia-Pacific nations developed.

The period between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s was also the time when the APFC met the most irregularly, sometimes with as long as five years between sessions. In that instance, the FAO Conference even passed a resolution stating that it would be "desirable" if the RFCs met every two years. One of the reasons for this disruption was that FAO was undergoing a major organizational restructuring. Forestry was elevated to departmental status in 1969 and a permanent advisory body, the Committee on Forestry (COFO), came into being in 1971. Because of the creation of COFO, some even questioned whether RFCs were still needed. Because a majority believed that they were providing an important service to FAO’s member countries, and to FAO itself, the FAO Council decided to maintain the regional forestry commissions and their subsidiary bodies.

“Forestry is no longer the isolated concern of the forester. It is a matter of vital interest alike to the farmer, the agriculturist, to the industrialist, to the engineer and to the administrator; indeed, it is of vital importance to the economy of the entire country.”

Shri S. K. Patiol, Union Minister of Agriculture, India, 1960

The sub-committees, working parties and study groups of the APFC were responsible for some of the Commission’s most significant early achievements. The issues these subsidiary bodies dealt with were strongly influenced by the prevailing paradigm in international development, which was characterized by its strong emphasis on government-led industrialization. Since forests were recognized as a contributing factor to economic development, the APFC subsidiary bodies actively took up sector planning (inventories and outlook studies), silviculture and management (timber grading, fast-growing plantations, harvesting mechanization), the development of secondary industries (wood utilization), research, training and education.

This initial focus on the technical aspects of forests’ productive functions was not what everyone at FAO had in mind when the organization approved the establishment of regional forestry commissions. Signals and guidance were, in fact, mixed and somewhat inconsistent. Prior to the Mysore Conference, FAO’s Director of the Forestry Division told the Pacific Science Association (PSA) that FAO was planning to set up a Bureau to collect forestry statistics, much like the PSA’s Standing Committee on Forestry. Three years later, a different FAO representative emphasized at the Second APFC Session that "advice and guidance on the broad aspects of forest policy" was the primary task of the Commission, "rather than examination of technical details." Another three years later, delegates to the Eighth FAO Conference argued that the "method of relying increasingly on working parties to deal with technical subjects is commended." With the benefit of hindsight, the APFC’s early emphasis on technical problems accelerated the confidence-building process and helped create the necessary momentum for APFC activities to be initiated.

Many countries in the region had relatively less abundant forest resources and therefore less opportunity for forest-based industrialization. These countries were more concerned with protecting forests from over-exploitation by rural communities for fuelwood and construction material, particularly in areas prone to soil erosion. At the insistence of these countries, the APFC also discussed issues relating to housing, social forestry, shifting cultivation and watershed management. The Fourth (1954) and Fifth (1960) World Forestry Congresses, which dealt with soil erosion and multiple-use forestry, served to draw additional attention to these topics (see Annex E for a list of dates and themes of World Forestry Congresses).

In this context, preliminary mention is made of the significance of the first regional study on timber trends and prospects (ECAFE & FAO, 1961). Carried out at the recommendation of the APFC, this study and its discussion at the Fifth (1960) and Sixth (1962) Commission Sessions marked an important turning point. The study had two critical influences on the work of the APFC and forestry development in the region. First, countries were struck by the finding that timber deficits were much more serious and widening at a much more rapid pace than previously assumed. This realization prompted the member nations to greatly intensify their planting programs. Second, the study solidly placed forestry in the larger context of economic development and served to reorient APFC deliberations toward policy issues, legislation, administration and trade. This shift was subsequently reinforced by the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, which marked the end of this first historical period of the APFC.

Membership and governance

Prior to the first session of the APFC in Bangkok, FAO prepared a set of "Rules of Procedure." These specified that membership would "comprise those countries whom the Director-General shall invite to participate in its work" and that "the meetings of the Commissions shall be held in private." At the Second Session, the Commission appointed a small committee to study desirable revisions. It was decided that future sessions were to be held in public and that the geographically ambiguous membership definition be modified to state that "the members of the Commission shall be all such Member Nations of FAO as are located, or are responsible for non-self-governing territories, within the regions of Asia and the Pacific, excluding those countries of Asia served by the FAO Near East Regional Office." Just how a country would become a member was, however, left unspecified.

In the late 1950s, FAO Conference delegates raised concerns over the legal status of certain bodies created under FAO’s Constitution. As a result, the statutes and rules of procedures of all FAO statutory bodies were reviewed and relevant changes made. In the case of the APFC, this meant that membership would henceforth be granted only after eligible nations have notified the Director-General of their desire to be considered as members. An additional check was placed on the activities of FAO subsidiary bodies through an amendment of the section on expenses, making the establishment and working of subsidiary bodies "subject to the availability of necessary funds in the relevant chapter of the organization. Before taking any decision involving expenditure in connection with the establishment of subsidiary bodies, the Commission shall have before it a report from the Director-General on the administrative and financial implications thereof."

APFC Membership

Whereas the impact of membership issues has not greatly influenced the functioning of the APFC, the provisions specifying that member nations are responsible for expenses incurred by the participation of their delegations has over time created difficulties for some of the economically disadvantaged members. The trend line added to the graph depicting APFC sessions attendance rates shows that it reached its lowest point in the late 1970s, coinciding with the worldwide recession and with the lowest extent of inter-sessional activities under APFC subsidiary bodies.

When the original Rules governing APFC were amended at the Second Session in 1952, the provisions for an Executive Committee to "carry on the business of the Commission between regular sessions" and "to meet from time to time" were retained. These provisions were eliminated from the statutes as a result of the 1960 review by FAO, but APFC delegates lobbied for a reintroduction.

Session attendence rates

The Executive Committee met in 1962, 1964 and 1969, usually on occasion of regular sessions, to provide guidance to the APFC and help prepare for the regular sessions. The declining trend in session attendance during this time indicates that the activities of the Executive Committee was less instrumental to the functioning of the Commission than other factors, particularly the extent of activities undertaken by the subsidiary bodies. This observation seems to be confirmed by a look at the most recent period. The increase in session attendance since 1993 has not been a result of activities of the Executive Committee, since it has ceased to function as such, but of the conscious decision by FAO to promote the role of RFCs and the renewed support of the Secretariat.

Forest policy in the region

True to the APFC’s mandate, Commission members have spent a significant amount of their time at regular sessions, and in preparation for them, on reviewing and advising on the formulation and implementation of the broad aspects of forest policy. The national progress reports and their synthesis prepared by the Secretariat usually provided the basis for these reviews and the subsequent discussions. The Asia-Pacific region is extremely diverse, both in terms of forest resources and socioeconomic conditions. Accordingly, even the broadest policy issues do not evenly apply in their relevance to all members of the APFC. As a result, the Commission dealt with a wide variety of topics during the 1950s and 1960s.

“Economic progress in the less developed areas of the world, as well as the expected increased in wood requirements in all regions, now rendered necessary more concentrated attention on the problems of tropical forestry”

FAO Conference, 1955

By and large, countries moved to formalize the forestry policy principles FAO advanced in 1951, sometimes in conjunction with the recommendations of World Forestry Congresses or other landmark events. In 1960, the APFC concluded that generally, the countries rich in forests in the tropical zone were mainly concerned with developing their resources and finding markets for their produce. The countries in arid and semi-arid zones, on the contrary, concentrated on the protective roles of the forest. In both cases, however, the necessity (and often the difficulty) of supplying local communities with the required forest products was stressed. Countries also demonstrated a trend toward granting property or usufruct of neighboring forests to rural communities. The need for plantations, especially of fast-growing species, was further recognized, whether they were intended for supplying local communities or providing a continuous supply of raw material for industry.

The productivity and potential of tropical forests were frequently issues of considerable debate. In opening the Third APFC Session in Tokyo in 1955, the Japanese Minister of Agriculture and Forestry noted that "the prevailing forest situation in the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly in Southeast Asia reveals that there lies a gigantic volume of unutilized forest resources [...] waiting for exploitation. Its value as a potential resource is drawing the attention of many nations." Marcel Leloup, Director of FAO’s Forestry Division, replied that "we should be cautious in evaluating these resources and I feel it is my duty to warn against the too facile belief that tropical forests present unlimited possibilities."

Nevertheless, by the mid-1950s, practically all countries were reporting plans for new forest products laboratories, training workshops, modernization of extraction equipment, and an expansion of forest-based industries. FAO had recently established a pulp and paper program, but some APFC delegates initially felt that the costs of producing pulp and paper in the region might result be well in excess of current world prices, adding that "enthusiasm for greater production must be tempered by business wisdom."

Very soon, however, the APFC noted with concern that although consumption in Asia remained low when compared with other regions, present supplies were inadequate to meet any marked expansion of demand. The unbalanced regional distribution of supply further contributed to the perceived deficits. The Commission appreciated the efforts of member governments to increase the availability of raw material for pulping and recommended that FAO organize a meeting of economic and technical experts on the pulp and paper industry. A regional consultation was subsequently held in Tokyo in 1960, one year after FAO created its Advisory Committee on Pulp and Paper. The Commission felt that one of the pressing issues was the pros and cons of exploiting natural tropical forests vis-à-vis establishing plantations of fast-growing species in the region.

AP region production increase 1961-1970

Source: FAOSTAT (Asia-Pacific region as defined by the organization)
Partly as a result of the widening forest resources deficit projected in the first regional timber trends and prospects study (ECAFE & FAO, 1961), extensive planting programs were developed in a several countries. Ownership patterns were far from uniform, but overall, public ownership clearly dominated. During the 1950s, some countries made efforts to extend controlled management to private forests while others pursued a policy of increasing forest areas by purchase of private land for forestry, and encouraging farm forestry.

The APFC’s position on forest ownership reflected the basic distinction between its forest-rich and forest-poor members, as well as sensitivity to the political implications of the issue. At the Sixth Session in 1962, the question was raised whether the time was not opportune to give greater encouragement to private forestry in certain countries. The Commission agreed that three general cases could be distinguished: large-scale forestry practiced by industrial companies, small private woodlots, and community forests, especially for providing local supplies of fuel and pole timber.

Delegates were well aware that developments in recent years had shown that many forests owned by forest industry enterprises were managed "on exemplary lines, and compared favorably in many instances with state forests." Similarly, small private forestry had proven successful in encouraging farmers to establish plantations for industrial use, and farm incomes had thereby been substantially raised in some areas. The APFC recommended member governments to consider the extent to which, and the means whereby, private forestry could be encouraged.

“In view of the important part played by communal forests in developing an appreciation of the benefits of forestry and in improving community living conditions, forestry authorities should consider whether the promotion of this type of property would not offer great advantages.”

APFC, 1955

At the same time, recognition was given to the major contribution of community forests in supplying fuel and timber in rural areas, especially where local traditions favored cooperative efforts. The Commission even doubted "whether the gigantic fuelwood problem in South Asia could be solved otherwise."

Whether the expansion and improvement of forest resources were to be undertaken on public or private land, APFC delegates agreed that a stable flow of financial resources was necessary to achieve the tasks. Some countries established special reforestation funds from forest taxes. As early as 1952, however, the APFC recommended all members to create national forestry funds to guarantee the financing of silviculture and forest management operations, initially to cover the requirements of several years and replenished annually from forest revenue. Twelve years later, the Commission noted that only a few countries had been able to set up such funds, illustrating the difficulties public forest sectors were increasingly facing.

The APFC also felt that in spite of their importance, problems relating to forest administrations were not given sufficient attention by governments. Existing administrations tried, with varying levels of success, to increase and improve the professional training of their staff, and to extend their control to all state forests by means of forest reservation.

By the mid-1960s, there were growing perceptions of a widening wood deficit in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr. N. A. Osara, Director of FAO’s Forestry Division, warned at the Seventh Session in 1964 that "as the regional study on timber trends and prospects made clear, [natural] forest resources, often because they are not economically accessible, present only limited possibilities for meeting the region’s growing requirements for wood, pulp, paper and other products. This places man-made plantations at the forefront of the Commission’s interest and in the perspective for land-use planning."

Notwithstanding, the APFC noted five years later that considerable expansion in consumption and export trade, both inter-regional and intra-regional, was likely to take place, and stressed the desirability of developing domestic industries to meet the growing demands. The Commission strongly urged that instead of exporting wood in log form, local processing into semi-finished and finished products should be encouraged and carried out in the exporting countries, to the extent feasible and desirable. This would bring many benefits to the countries concerned, the APFC argued, such as increased employment, increased value per unit volume of export product, and more by-products and sawmill waste.

Forestry statistics and outlook studies

The collection, analysis and dissemination of forestry statistics were not only an integral component of the Mysore Conference resolutions, but also a necessary corollary to FAO’s Principles of Forest Policy. At their Second Session in 1952, however, the APFC’s members recognized that with the varying degree of economic development in the region, the completion of forest inventories in five years, as originally laid down in the Mysore resolutions, was in several instances impossible. Aerial photography was considered a tool that could greatly accelerate the tasks and a working party was established to promote its use.

This working party, with support from the FAO Conference, repeatedly requested FAO to establish a regional training center on inventory techniques, which was finally incorporated into the organization’s list of regional projects for 1958. By then, the preparations for FAO’s 1958 World Forest Inventory had revealed the "unsatisfactory and often quite unreliable" character of many of the statistics reported to it by member countries. The APFC spent much time discussing this topic at its Third Session in 1955 and reiterated its suggestion that FAO accord high priority in its program of work to the improvement of national statistics.

“The conclusion becomes inescapable that present plans for forestry development and further expansion of basic forest industries are not sufficient, and that a thorough revision of national programs in these fields is urgently needed in order to adjust local and regional supplies of paper, packaging and building materials, fuelwood and other forest products to prospective needs.”

APFC, 1960

Despite the concerns about the quality of statistical information in the region, the Commission recommended that a study of timber trends and prospects be undertaken, in cooperation with member countries and in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE). One of the main reasons for developing the study was the "anomaly" of "a high and growing import bill for forest products in a region which possesses substantial areas of unutilized forest resources" (ECAFE & FAO, 1961).

The results and subsequent modifications of the outlook study constituted the most prominent discussion topics among APFC delegates during the 1960s. At the Fifth Session in 1960, the initial conclusions created widespread concern of an impending forest resource crisis. The Commission delegates learned that the generally accepted figures for annual removals in member countries of around 250 million cubic meters was 100 million cubic meters short of reality, "a difference big enough to require a reconsideration of the role of forests in the economy of the Asia-Pacific region;" that even with the present low [per capita] level of consumption, forest resources were steadily being depleted - "through uncontrolled fellings, the ravages of pests, diseases and fire, by widespread shifting cultivation and through the alienation of land to agriculture;" and that in many countries forest cover was already insufficient to fulfill its protective role.

The APFC urged member governments to prepare without delay new development programs for their forest and forest industries. Furthermore, the great difficulties encountered by nearly all countries in the region in assembling the basic statistical data for the compilation of country reports - on which the regional study was based - had clearly pointed to the sharp need for practically each country to set up permanent mechanisms to undertake periodic inventories of forest resources and land-capability surveys.

Two years later in 1962, the Governor of Hong Kong, Sir Robert Black, opened the Sixth APFC Session with the words: "It is clear that, apart from the actual shortage of timber, there is an unsatisfactory relationship between world forest resources and the centers of consumption, and that access to the areas of production is often difficult and expensive. These factors and the changes in the kinds of timber most in demand are forcing attention on species trials and the nurture of plantations in place of the management of natural forests."

Industrial roundwood supply possibilities as concluded in the 1961 Outlook Study

Source: ECAFE & FAO, 1961 (1975 figures are projections)
As a result of the original outlook study for Asia and the Pacific and the urgent recommendations of the Commission, member countries took measures to increase the future availability of wood products. These plans prompted an upward revision of the original supply forecast by almost 25 percent, which cut the prospective 1975 regional deficit by almost half. The revised requirements were estimated to be somewhat lower than the earlier forecast for continental Southeast Asia and Oceania, slightly higher in insular Southeast Asia and substantially higher in East Asia. These conclusions led the APFC to draw the attention of member governments to a number of considerations, including that in spite of recent progress, the region was still lagging in the establishment of wood processing facilities, and that the plans for raising forest production prepared by many of the wood-surplus countries failed to give sufficient weight to opportunities for forest industry development and increased intra-regional trade.

The activities and deliberations of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission relating to forestry statistics and outlook studies have historically constituted one of the APFC’s most important functions. The reverberation of the 1961 study clearly illustrated the impact the Commission had on forest policy in the region, as well as on FAO’s program of work; two of the more prominent consequences of the first outlook study and the APFC’s related recommendations were an increased emphasis on plantations and on economics in forestry planning. The impact of the study carried implications not only for actions to be taken within member countries, but also on the regional plane, where the need for coordination among APFC member countries was repeatedly highlighted during Commission sessions. Ultimately, the attention APFC generated through the study reinforced the necessity for forestry to obtain a more important place than in the past in development plans in the region.

Silviculture and wood utilization

It is in this broad area that the APFC accomplished most of its work during the early period. Already at the Inaugural Session, nine sub-committees were established to deal with grading and standardization; two years later, a committee was created to address problems related to tropical silviculture and management. At the early sessions, it was not unusual that the list of official documents included fifty technical papers in addition to the national progress reports. As noted earlier, these technical activities played a very important role in the early history of the Commission. Since these were the issues the majority of foresters were most familiar with and interested in, professional contacts were easily made, confidence in the APFC built and momentum for its continued functioning created. In this context, the APFC served the critical function of providing a vehicle for the establishment of region-wide professional networks.

The search for a common language, or the "rectification of names," initially focused on the standardization of nomenclature and grading rules of different wood products. By the time delegates met for the Second Session, progress under the sub-committees on dimensions, sawn conifers and sawn hardwoods indigenous to Australia, Japan and New Zealand was already such that they could terminate their activities and report to the member countries. That same year, FAO organized a timber grading course at Kepong, Malaya. By 1960, the tasks of all but one of the grading sub-committees had been completed and several countries in the region had started trading under the new rules.

Of the commercial tree species of direct relevance to APFC members, teak probably attracted the most attention in the early period. The Sub-committee on Teak Grading was formed at the Inaugural Session, with Burma’s Tan Chein Hoe as its first coordinator. Three years later, FAO approved the formation of a broader sub-commission to promote international collaboration in the study of all technical and economic questions relating to teak and invited the main producers (Burma, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand) to constitute themselves into a permanent committee. In an almost unprecedented event of inter-regional cooperation, the teak sub-commission was transformed into a joint body between the APFC and the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission in 1961.

This body met numerous times, organized study tours and prepared grading standards and the first set of agreed grading rules for teak conversions. In 1969, the sub-commission met the same fate as many of its subsidiary APFC counterparts, namely its incorporation into the newly created FAO Committee on Forest Development in the Tropics, which was established to "study technical, economic and social problems relating to the development of tropical forests, particularly in developing countries, having regard to production, utilization and conversion aspects as well as to the marketing of forest products."

A second field in which the APFC played a significant role in the region was the introduction of exotic species, particularly pine and eucalyptus. General issues were first dealt with by the Sub-committee on Problems in Tropical Silviculture and Management and from 1957 by the Sub-committee on Planting of Exotics (Eucalyptus and Pinus Species) which was later renamed the Sub-committee on Conifers and Eucalyptus. In 1960, the Sub-committee presented its preliminary conclusions based on questionnaire surveys. At the time, it found that "differences are in fact very much more evident than similarities, and it is very doubtful if more detailed information on each species found in the region will be of much practical use."

Under the able guidance of the sub-committee’s chairmen, however, work was continued and eventually produced significant results. In 1962, the APFC noted with appreciation that Australia had followed up on an earlier recommendation and established a "Certified Eucalyptus Seed Collection Centre and Clearing House Service." Two years later, a report was prepared containing much of the information necessary to enable interested parties to make a preliminary choice of species holding the greatest promise for introduction or raising in plantations. The timing was opportune as the APFC announced that the prospects for financing of forestry development and in particular of plantations was favorable, since the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank) was attaching increasing importance to agricultural and forestry investments. At both the Seventh (1964) and Eighth (1969) APFC Sessions, the potential of fast-growing plantations was a key agenda item; in the interval, FAO had organized a World Symposium on Man-made Forests.

The third area under the general heading of silviculture concerned mechanized logging. In response to the great interest among APFC members, FAO organized a six-month training course in 1952 in the Philippines on modern logging and milling techniques, particularly on the use of mechanical equipment. At the time, most of the work of felling and moving timber in Asia-Pacific forests was done "by primitive methods involving the most arduous labor" (Hambidge, 1955). The Philippines was chosen as training site because it was the only country in the region where mechanical logging was the rule rather than the exception.

The training center was considered such a success that a repeat course soon returned to the priorities among APFC’s recommendations for FAO’s work program. By 1960, while mechanization of logging operations was progressing in India, Indonesia, Malaya, New Zealand and the Philippines, elsewhere there was very little progress. This was explained by difficult terrain, lack of equipment, trained operators and maintenance facilities and, sometimes, by the need to provide employment for rural laborers. Even though FAO included management and logging of natural forests in its future orientation in the mid-1960s, the Commission in 1969 urged FAO again to give increased attention to logging techniques and equipment, taking into account the necessity to minimize damage to forests when using mechanized logging methods.

Watershed management and shifting cultivation

While the productive functions of forests stood at the center of attention during much of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission’s early history, the Commission’s diverse membership guaranteed that issues related to protective forest functions would also be part of the agenda. Watershed management was one such issue, the importance of which was highlighted at the Fourth World Forestry Congress in Dehra Dun, India, in 1954, organized around the theme of "Conservation Aspects of Forestry and Tropical Silviculture." In retrospect it is fair to say that the activities surrounding watershed management presaged many issues that would later become critical forestry concerns, including cross-sectoral coordination, community forestry and a reconsideration of shifting cultivation. In so doing, watershed management discussions paved the way for a broader approach to forestry by the APFC.

At its Third Session in 1955, the Commission delegates decided to establish a permanent Working Party on Watershed Management to survey members’ existing problems, summarize work already done in these countries, facilitate the exchange of information, encourage coordination in research programs on watershed management and suggest to the Commission means of improving watershed conditions. Under the guidance of Japan’s S. Ogihara, the working party soon enlarged its scope to include shifting cultivation and soil and water conservation, which it decided were aspects of the same problem.

The Working Party held its first meeting in March 1957 in Hasaribagh, India, on the occasion of the Development Center on Watershed Management organized by FAO in response to an earlier APFC recommendation. The participants recognized that forest services seemed to take the lead in watershed management work, that other agencies were also involved, but that lack of coordination represented the greatest problem. Research responsibilities were found badly fragmented and rarely focused on watershed management per se, whereas education received insufficient attention throughout the region. The most urgent problems, however, were reportedly social and political, with shifting cultivation appearing the most serious and deserving of attention by the Working Party.

“The watershed should be managed for the maximum benefit of the people in perpetuity. This implies the balanced management and full utilization of the resources of each watershed, consistent with their conservation and improvement.”

APFC Working Party on Watershed Management, 1957

In response to earlier concerns among APFC members, FAO initiated a number of case studies on "the menace of uncontrolled shifting cultivation" at the beginning of the 1950s. By the middle of the decade, however, APFC members recognized that the problem had so many ramifications and the position varied so widely from country to country that a thorough worldwide survey would take considerable time. Shifting cultivation was one of the key discussion points at the Fourth APFC Session in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1957, where Dr. Sadjarwo, Minister for Agriculture, expressed his satisfaction that "the worst type of unsound land use in his country, shifting cultivation, was on the agenda of the session."

Still more attention was generated by the 1961 timber outlook study. It placed the gradual elimination of shifting cultivation and uncontrolled forest grazing and forest fires at the top of its list of measures needed to avoid hindering future economic development in the region because of a lack of forest products. Indeed, shifting cultivation and its main protagonists were attacked continuously during the 1950s and 1960s. The first signs of a conceptual shift was detected in 1969, when APFC delegates described it as one "which required at least as much careful study from sociological and political [aspects] as from agricultural and land-use aspects."

In the meantime, the Working Party on Watershed Management was busy consolidating existing research findings and making recommendations to governments in the region. While FAO was preparing a set of principles on soil and water conservation at the request of the Fourth World Forestry Congress, the APFC recognized that the formulation of such principles went far beyond the responsibility of foresters and that wider support by agriculturalists, soil and water users would be needed if member governments would recognize such principles. The Working Party also elevated watershed management to the regional level in 1960, when it recommended that the Director-General of FAO urge member nations to collaborate on cross-boundary watershed management issues at the technical and policy levels.

The efforts of the APFC and FAO began to pay off in the mid-1960s, when the Working Party reported "great progress" with almost all countries having adopted the principles of watershed management presented at the Fifth APFC Session in 1960, with implementation being in various stages of development. Countries which were more advanced, were already carrying out extensive field operations as part of major multi-purpose river projects, including the Mekong River Project. The Working Party urged member countries to further exchange plans of operations, research data and field experience.

As part of the general reorganization of FAO subsidiary bodies, the APFC Working Party on Watershed Management was dissolved in 1967 and its activities incorporated into the FAO Committee on Forest Development in the Tropics. This move was particularly resented by some member countries in Asia and the Pacific who felt watershed management issues were too important to the region to be simply considered among the many other topics assigned to the Committee on Forest Development in the Tropics.


The importance of forestry research was recognized at an early stage in the evolution of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission. At the Inaugural Session, delegates decided to include in the work program of the Commission "a study, undertaken if necessary by a working party, of the possibility of coordinating forest research and educational facilities on a regional basis," as well as "securing coordination of research on pulping of tropical woods, setting up, if necessary, a working party for the purpose." To this day, the promotion and coordination for forestry research is one of the key functions of the APFC, resulting in significant undertakings complementary to those of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

The Committee on Silvicultural and Forest Management Research and the Committee on Forest Products Research were both established in 1955. The former established two sub-committees in 1957 - one to devise practical silvicultural systems in lowland tropical rain forests, and the second to study the planting problems connected with the introduction of Eucalyptus and Pinus (later expanded to conifers and eucalyptus). These committees encouraged governments to share their statements of research accomplishments, future programs, working plans on specific projects, progress reports and final published results. They referred such documents to appropriate study groups and informed research organizations of related work in other countries. The Committees also stimulated publication by governments of research programs and interim progress reports and encouraged networking among appropriate institutes, formulation of cooperative studies, development of plans for study tours, and close linkages with IUFRO.

“It is of the greatest importance to the future well-being of the nations of the Asia-Pacific Region, that the people and national leaders should be convinced of the urgent importance of conservation and otherwise regenerative development of all renewable resources and of the scientific watershed management.”

APFC Working Party on Public Education in Forestry, 1957

The emphasis of the APFC’s research-related work was primarily on coordination and information exchange, in line with one of the key recommendations emerging from the 1954 World Forestry Congress. At its Fourth Session in 1957, for example, the APFC Committee on Forest Products Research gave highest priority to the formation of study groups to consider technical questions arising from forest products research, to avoid overlap in research programs, and to ensure the best approach to research practice. The Committee emphasized the importance of exchanging information at the technical level between the different countries of the region. The relevance of its efforts increased with the growing number of forest products research institutes being established in the region. The difficulties of distributing the large number of publications produced in the region added to the need for coordinating research efforts.

In contrast, the two Sub-committees dealing with aspects of tropical silviculture and management aimed to document the prevailing state of knowledge on their respective subjects in member countries, with a view to identifying appropriate areas of future research. Based on questionnaire surveys, they produced reviews of regeneration aspects of silvicultural systems used in lowland tropical rain forests, and special reports on pines, eucalyptus and dipterocarps. In 1967, the FAO Conference dissolved the two Sub-committees and incorporated their work into the Committee on Forest Development in the Tropics. In response, APFC requested FAO’s Director-General to consider how the research programmes and needs of countries in the region could receive proper attention under these circumstances. The Committee on Forest Products Research existed until 1973, by which time the needs for maintaining its ambitious work program were reduced.

Education and training

Already in 1946, the FAO Conference listed "insufficient technical personnel" among the main causes of the critical situation prevailing in forestry. Consequently, education and training were afforded prominent roles in the 1951 Principles on Forest Policy. The Principles stated that "adequate training should be provided for all those who will be responsible for the treatment of forests and the industrial utilization of their produces," and urged that "public consciousness of forest values should be developed by all means possible." In addition, the 1954 World Forestry Congress called for a world panel on forestry education.

As in many other key areas, the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission heeded these calls at an early stage. In 1952, it established a Working Party on Public Education in Forestry, initially to study the prospects for coordinating the exchange of lecturers, posters and other simple information on development of forests and other natural resources. Throughout the 1950s, J.C.K. Marshall of Malaya coordinated the Working Party in studying and advising on the needs of the region for instruction at universities, teachers training colleges and schools; the "need for communal and village forests and for national forest parks to help instill into the minds of the general public an appreciation of the importance of forest conservation and of the economic and recreational value of forests;" and the need for cooperation among the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), ECAFE, FAO and member governments.

In view of the small number of education and training facilities in forestry in the Asia-Pacific region at the time, an important task of the Working Party was to encourage member countries to host students from abroad. FAO was frequently called upon to sponsor international fellowships. In this area, considerable success was achieved. By 1957, higher forestry education was available in 8 countries, and intermediate training in 11.

During the 1950s, the main educational theme was natural resource conservation. Much of the Working Party’s efforts were therefore aimed at promoting public education activities. Progress in this field was reported from practically all countries, by means of tree festivals, establishment of school forests, films, pamphlets, posters, radio broadcasts, and prizes and awards for planting. In 1960, the Commission endorsed the Working Party’s recommendation that each country should appoint one forester to be in charge of public education in the conservation of renewable natural resources, in particular forest conservation.

From the early 1960s, the emphasis in education shifted as a result of the 1960 World Forestry Congress (which focused on multiple forest use) and the first regional timber trends and prospects study. The APFC noted with satisfaction that the curricula in several countries were being broadened to include training in watershed, range and wildlife management. It recommended, however, that greater attention be given to training forest economists, forest products engineers and technicians, and that training programs in silviculture and forest management should take due account of modern techniques for intensive forestry.

This shift was also reflected in the APFC’s committee work. The Working Party on Public Education ceased its activities in 1960. Many of its concerns were soon taken up by the FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education, established in 1963 in recognition of the widespread number of forestry faculty and school projects being requested by developing countries.

The increased attention on vocational skills and the need to improve the efficiency of forest operations and wood-working industries prompted the APFC to establish the Working Party on Forest Working Techniques and Training of Forest Workers, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Based on the model of its European counterpart, the joint FAO/ILO Working Party’s mandate was defined as "the promotion of international collaboration with regards to the training of forest workers and to working techniques in forest operations and timber transport, in order to support national efforts aimed at increasing productivity, better utilization of forest resources, prevention of accidents, and improvement in the working conditions and standards of living of forest workers."

As a result of the recommendations of the Working Party, FAO and ILO held a series of regional training courses, including in Burma (1962), the Philippines (1966) and Japan (1969); under the collaboration of FAO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Four training centers for forest workers were established in India and the ILO prepared a number of publications on training and worker safety. To monitor progress, the Working Party recommended that member countries report annually on development in training forest workers, safety and accident prevention, the use and maintenance of hand tools, and the organization and mechanization of forest work. The APFC also requested FAO and ILO to explore options for setting up a permanent world body of experts.

The Working Party ceased its operations in 1973. The APFC recognized that it had been too ambitious in trying to set up a subsidiary body modeled on the European example and recommended that, "in view of the fact that certain preconditions necessary to ensure efficient running cannot be fulfilled at present," FAO take the necessary steps to abolish the Committee.

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