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Perhaps nowhere else on Earth is the interface between forests and human communities as diverse, as politicized, or are the surrounding issues of such urgency and scale as they are in the Asia-Pacific region. Containing a significant portion of global forest cover and associated biodiversity, the region is also home to the largest contingent of the world’s human population. Accompanying this expanding population is a multiplicity of governance systems: each utilizing and managing natural resources as best meets perceived national interests. An unmistakable consequence of the past several decades of globalization has been heightened realization of the impermanent nature of national boundaries and the arbitrariness of geopolitical distinctions. While governments and political systems can, and do, collapse overnight, the broader ecological systems that sustain us have thus far persisted.

Rapidly rising demands for timber products and the multiple resources and endowments associated with forests – including their contribution as carbon sinks – sets the stage for numerous struggles among competing interests such as has not been witnessed before. These unfolding contests takes place against a backdrop of local ecologies, institutional and regulatory mechanisms, and economic pressures that assign value to forest products and services and the opportunity costs associated with alternative land uses. Among these competing interests, few are as challenging as the questions of national sovereignty versus membership in the global commons. How do we reconcile these complex and often apparently intractable differences? How do we step outside the narrow confines of national interest and think more broadly, and innovatively about the challenges facing the region’s forests?

Viet Nam and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) took a step in this direction by organizing a ground-breaking regional event to deal comprehensively with forestry-related issues. In conjunction with the 22nd Session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC), the seven days that comprised the inaugural Asia-Pacific Forestry Week provided a forum for considering the most pressing issues facing the forestry sector in the region. Forestry Week was organized along the lines of three critical thematic areas: “social” (encompassing issues of poverty alleviation, indigenous rights and income generation), “environment” (dealing largely with climate change and attempting to clarify some of the complexity surrounding REDD and voluntary carbon markets) and “economic” (including a focus on illegal logging and associated trade of timber in Asia and the Pacific).

Asia-Pacific Forestry Week brought together more than 700 participants from government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), research institutions, regional and international networks, U.N. agencies and the private sector. The event was distinguished by the broad cross-section of participants that it drew. While APFC sessions traditionally engage government forestry officials, fora in which these same officials interact with a wide range of forest-related stakeholders have been few and far between in the past. Forestry Week sought to overcome this constraint by transcending narrow national, sectoral and disciplinary confines that have long hindered our ability to deal with regional forestry issues in a systemic, holistic fashion.

The trail-blazing nature of Asia-Pacific Forestry Week has not been lost on international observers. The success of this event has been such that other institutional and regional fora have come to adopt the concept, including FAO’s Committee on Forestry (COFO) and “Forestry Weeks” in the other regions of the world.

The true innovation in the events of the first Asia-Pacific Forestry Week, and this resulting publication, lie in the fact that they took place concurrently, under the same roof, resulting in synergies and hopefully a broader, more complete vision of the trends and realities facing the region’s forests.

Photo contest finalists

"Old is Green"
Mohamed Naiph 2008

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