Sustainable forest management is gaining ground in Asia-Pacific
FAO welcomes country collaboration in resolving forest problems - higher public awareness
19 April 2004, Bangkok -- Most countries in the Asia-Pacific region have developed well-defined policies and innovative tools for sustainable forestry, but since many lack the capacity to implement them effectively, overall progress remains slow, FAO said today.
"It is encouraging to see that the concept of sustainable forestry is increasingly gaining ground in the Asia-Pacific region," said Hosny El-Lakany, FAO Assistant Director-General for Forestry, on the eve of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission meeting in Nadi, Fiji (19-23 April 2004).
"We see regional collaboration as a key force behind the progress that is being made," he added.
FAO brings the countries in the region together every two years to discuss common forest problems and policy issues, seek solutions and learn from each other's experiences. More than 30 countries are expected to attend the Asia-Pacific conference.
"FAO believes that regional approaches represent the best way to address the world's forest issues," said El-Lakany.
"This kind of regional dialogue can also help bridge the gap between international policy discussions and best practices on the ground," he said.
Among the most pressing issues for the forest sector in Asia and the Pacific are illegal logging, participatory forestry, forest fires and forest rehabilitation. It is also necessary to ensure forests' role in poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and ensuring clean water, FAO said.
Stronger regional cooperation in managing forest fires and in controlling invasive tree species (introduced species that spread easily and behave as weeds, threatening the survival of native species if not controlled) is needed.
The total natural forest area in the Asia-Pacific region is estimated at 585 million hectares, FAO said. About 2.5 million hectares of natural forest were cleared annually in the past decade. Significant forest losses in the region are due to forest fires and illegal logging.
In the 1990s, seven countries lost more than 10 percent of their forest cover: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
But there has also been some progress in reducing deforestation, El-Lakany said. Eight countries increased their forest cover in the 1990s.
The region leads the world in creating new forests. The majority of industrial wood production in the region is now coming from plantation forests, FAO said.
In the 1990s, forest plantations amounted to 34 million hectares. India (averaging 1.5 million hectares annually) and China (around 1.2 million hectares per year) had the highest rates of creating new plantations. In China, plantation establishment has continued to accelerate with planting in 2002 reported to exceed 7 million hectares.
Countries in the region are applying a number of innovative tools towards sustainable forest management. The Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission has developed a regional code of practice for forest harvesting, and most major timber harvesting countries have drafted national codes.
In a recent initiative to promote success stories, called "In Search of Excellence", the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission has identified 30 forests in the region with best management practices, which can serve as models for other forest areas.
Many countries have reformed their forestry agencies and have decentralized forest management responsibilities to provincial and local governments, the private sector and community organizations.
"There is an urgent need for substantive capacity building and training to provide forestry officers with skills and knowledge to address the different challenges," El-Lakany said.
In the Asia-Pacific region, public awareness of the ecological and social services provided by forests has grown, FAO said.
Increasing environmental priorities are reflected in expanding protected areas, greater focus on biodiversity and better participation of civil society in forest conservation and management.
"Throughout the region, people have begun to demand greater accountability in the way that forests are managed, and even more so, a direct say in forest management," El-Lakany said.
Information Officer, FAO
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