Time to tap the full potential of Asia-Pacific’s forests: sustainably and prosperously

08/11/2013 - 

33 countries from Asia and the Pacific examine the potential for a more efficient and prosperous development of forest products across the region 

The forest sector across Asia and the Pacific has enormous untapped potential to increase the prosperity of countries, industries and improve the livelihoods of millions. But to achieve that, greater, coordinated efforts are needed by forest managers, governments and the private sector.

Leading forestry experts and policy makers from 33 member countries are attending the 25th session of the Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) to consider ways and means of making the region’s vast forests more productive and prosperous, while ensuring the sustainability and health of these natural resources.

The biannual meeting, hosted this year by the Government of New Zealand, in Rotorua, has brought together more than 200 delegates to the APFC under the general theme “Forests for Prosperity.”

While the formal forest sector already contributes more than US$ 450 billion to the global economy each year, far more could be achieved if greater attention was given to increasing the volume and improving the quality of products and services available in the forests of the region – and by doing so in more efficient and sustainable ways.

Regional forestry experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations say a higher priority should be given to adding value to forest products, instead of harvesting and selling low-value, unprocessed forest commodities – an all-too-common practice found in many countries of Asia and the Pacific.

There are already existing good practices in this region for increasing prosperity, and these could be replicated the delegates were told. The multi-billion dollar wooden furniture industries of China and Viet Nam are examples of the enormous potential for adding value and creating new jobs – a means to an end in the fight against poverty and hunger.

“The global economic crisis in 2008, taught us many lessons, among them the importance of forestry in food security. Indeed, it is forests which help ensure our reliable supplies of clean water and without water, there is no food,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “A large number of people are dependent on forests and their products for their livelihoods, hence the need to focus on prosperity in forestry development policies and programmes.”

During opening remarks to delegates, Konuma went on to say: “In a world where people’s aspirations are changing rapidly and dramatically, it is not enough to simply lift people above the poverty line. A proactive prosperity-enhancing approach must be pursued – and more efficient economic activity in the forest sector has the potential to assist us in that regard.”

Forests cover an estimated 740 million hectares in Asia and the Pacific, or more than one-quarter (26%) of the total land surface. However, on a per capita basis, Asia and the Pacific is the least-forested region of the world, with only 0.2 hectares of forest per person.

While the net area of forests in the Asia-Pacific region actually expanded at a rate of 1.4 million hectares per year during the last decade, the increase was due to major investments in reforestation and afforestation in a relatively small number of countries, while forests continue to be cleared and damaged in many other countries of the region.

Therefore, the APFC delegates will consider a wide range of challenges and approaches in relation to the push for greater prosperity.

“We need to take into account the full range of economic, social, environmental, cultural and spiritual aspects of forests,” according to Eva Muller, FAO’s Director for Forest Economics, Policy and Products. “The importance of forests in supplying clean and reliable water supplies, holding precious topsoil in place, providing habitat for most of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and locking up vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise increase greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is now more readily appreciated as key contributions of forests to prosperity.”

The enormous cultural values of forests and their contributions as a backdrop to tourism and to spiritual wellbeing are also now much more widely appreciated as contributing to a holistic definition of prosperity.

“Forest policies in the Asia-Pacific region have undergone major changes in recent years to reflect these values, shifting from timber-focused management to multiple-use approaches that give more attention to biodiversity and climate change concerns,” said Patrick Durst, FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for Asia and the Pacific. “We’ve also seen wider participation in forest governance and public policy-making related to forests. More countries are also adjusting forest policies to more fully capture the potential of forests to contribute to emerging green economy and green development approaches.”

The 25th Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission (APFC) is convened by the FAO from 5 – 8 November, at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre, hosted by the Government of New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries.