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Opening address

Pong Leng-Ee
Royal Forest Department, Thailand

Mr. Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed my great honour to make a brief opening statement at the Regional Expert Consultation on Non-Wood Forest Products: Social, Economic, and Cultural Dimensions this morning.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you about the background and current conditions of forests in Thailand. As you know, the persistent depletion of Thailand's forests is quite evident. In 1994, the forest coverage was 26.02 percent of the country's land area compared to 60 percent in 1961. Thus, over 33 years, we have lost approximately 111 million rai, or 17.8 million hectares. Therefore, the main emphasis in implementing national forest policy now is to ensure full-scale protection of the remaining natural forests while allowing appropriate utilization by local people who live close to the forests. The Royal Forest Department is still facing 3 major problems, namely:

1. Deforestation or illegal cutting, which is mainly the result of forest encroachment and is very harmful to proper management of forests and conservation of natural habitats

2. Land-use conflicts and poor agricultural practices by landless farmers engaged in shifting cultivation

3. Scarcity of wood supplies. Local people living in the hills consume 1.23 cubic meters of fuelwood per person per year for cooking and heating; domestic wood consumption totals approximately 58 million cubic meters per year.

The current policy of the Royal Thai Government is to cover 40 percent of the country's land area, or about 20 million hectares, with forests, which are classified into 3 different zones:

1. Conservation zone (Zone C). This encompasses an area of 85 million rai, or about 14 million hectares. It consists of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and watershed areas found in the existing natural forests in Thailand.

2. Economic zone (Zone E). This encompasses an area of 55 million rai, or about 9 million hectares which are planned for commercial plantations and reserved areas for landless farmers. However, bigger patches of rich natural forests are considered part of Zone C.

3. Agricultural zone (Zone A). This encompasses an area of 7.2 million rai, or about 1.2 million hectares of deforested areas suitable for agriculture which have been given to the Office of Agricultural Land Reform in order to allocate them to landless farmers.

Concerning this consultative forum, I believe the governments in various developing countries must help their people earn more income to ensure better living conditions. However, development can lead to deterioration of forestland as well. In addition, agroforestry should be considered for those local people- living close to the forest.

Non-wood forest products can play a vital role in serving the needs of human beings and nature. In Thailand, we have 7 important non-wood forest products. These are medicinal plants, edible plants, rattan, bamboo, bee products, lac and pine resin. These all have a potential for earnings in both the local and overseas markets. About 85 percent of bamboo, for example, is consumed within households, while rattan furniture exports have declined because of the cane export ban imposed by the major producing countries in 1989. Therefore, I would like to propose that distinguished delegates take serious consideration of the above-mentioned matters, which I hope will lead to future mutual cooperation among our member countries in this region.

Before I end my opening address, I would like to convey His Majesty the King's statement regarding general welfare of the people and project development which is as follows:

"Development of the nation must be carried in stages, starting with the laying of the foundation by ensuring the majority of the people with their basic necessities through the use of economical means and equipment in accordance with theoretical principles. Once reasonably firm foundation has been laid and is in effect, higher levels of economic growth and development should next be promoted. If we were to concentrate only on fast economic progress without allowing the plan of operation to harmonize with the condition of the country and the people, an imbalance in various aspects would be caused and may bring about failure in the end, as witnessed the serious economic crises currently faced by many a developed country. "

Finally, I wish this consultative meeting every success.

Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen.

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