Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/856
    19 May 2005

    State of Sustainable Forest Management in Asia-Pacific Addressed by UN Forum Panel Discussion

    Overview of Major Trends Presented, Along with Ideas, Strategies for Advancing Forest Agenda

    NEW YORK, 18 May (UN Headquarters) -- Although the Asia-Pacific region possessed rapid growth and tremendous diversity, it still had to overcome poverty, and empower women and indigenous groups to achieve effective sustainable forest management, the United Nations Forum on Forests was told today, during a panel discussion on regional realities.

    Opening the panel discussion, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General on Economic Development, noted that the series of regional presentations, which had begun at the Forum’s third session, was intended to provide a forum for sharing ideas, perspectives and strategies to move the sustainable forest management agenda forward.

    Keynote speaker David Kaimowitz, Director General of the Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia, presented an overview of some of the major trends affecting forests and forestry in the Asia-Pacific region.  They included a relatively low amount of forests per capita in Asia, declining forest cover, and illegal logging and corruption in the region.  Those older problems also competed with newer ones, such as climate change, management of biodiversity outside protected areas, payment for environmental services, and violent conflict in forested regions.

    Sustainable forest management was a process of integrating and balancing social, environmental and economic imperatives, which must also take into consideration local realities, said B.C.Y. Freezailah, chairman of the Malaysian Timber Certification Council.  Unless the gap between policy and practice was bridged, sustainable forest management could not be ensured on a large-scale or long-term basis.

    Highlighting a project in Nepal to empower legal forestry owners to develop forestry land, Kanchan Lama, chairperson of the Society for Partners in Development, said that rural women -- and indigenous women in particular -- had been systematically deprived of farm information and services, as well as of opportunities to participate in development planning.  The lack of women’s independent rights eventually hampered achieving success in sustainable forest development, she said.

    Hiro Miyazono, Deputy Director of the International Forestry Cooperation Office, Forestry Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, said his country was committed to supporting sustainable forest management as a prerequisite for its social, economic and cultural stability and development, as well as a matter of responsibility as a major timber-importing country.  Bilateral and multilateral cooperation, the use of a regional approach, international dialogues, and cooperation through the non-governmental and private sectors were among the country’s approaches in support of sustainable forest management.  Major progress had also been made through the Asia Forest Partnership.

    Also sharing some of her country’s experiences on forests was Gopa Pandey, a member of the Forest Service of India, who highlighted its national forest action plan, as well as such achievements as increased dialogue, more local participation, and the mobilization of women’s groups.  She said it was important to study the social and cultural aspects of forests to obtain forest-related scientific knowledge, as well as to see how those processes had been ecologically knitted through the planning and forestry sector.

    Following the panellists’ presentations, an interactive dialogue was held in which the representatives of China, Indonesia, Croatia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Luxembourg (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Guatemala, United States and Nepal participated.  The primary topic addressed was the national experience of each regarding sustainable forest management in general.  Secondary points included national timber certification schemes, logging practices and legislation, forest fires and the use of plantation forests.

    The panel discussion was moderated by Neria A. Andin, Assistant Director of the Forest Management Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines.

    The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 19 May, to resume its discussion related to the past, present and future work and format of the international arrangement on forests.

    Background

    The United Nations Forum on Forests met this morning to hold a panel discussion on regional realities in the Asia and Pacific region.  (For additional background information on the session, please see Press Release ENV/DEV/851 of 12 May 2005.)

    Panel Statements

    Opening the panel discussion, JOMO KWAME SUNDARAM, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General on Economic Development, noted that the series of regional presentations had begun at the Forum’s third session, with presentations from Europe, Central America and the AmazonBasin.  In 2004, attention had been devoted to Africa and small island developing States.  The series was intended to provide a forum for sharing ideas, perspectives and strategies to move the sustainable forest management agenda forward.  Thus, today’s event was meant to showcase and affirm the role of forests and trees as ecological, social and economic resources crucial to sustainable development in the Asia and Pacific region.  Many challenges confronted Asia-Pacific forests, including loss of forest cover and land degradation.  Sustainable forest management must be considered an integral part of overall national, subregional and regional strategies.

    Human beings continued to depend on the sustainability of global ecosystems, he stressed.  In the forestry sector, the depletion and degradation of forests continued to persist in parts of the Asia and Pacific region, as millions of hectares had been swept by excessive logging, forest fires, land use change, mining and other human activities.  Yet, there had also been progress in reducing deforestation.  It should be recognized that, with two thirds of the world’s population, and with ever-growing trade, investment, production, and markets, the Asia and Pacific region was likely to become an ever-larger engine of the world economy.  Moreover, those qualities, coupled with the region’s tremendous diversity, had the potential to facilitate efforts to overcome poverty.  Sustainable forest management would constitute an essential element of that development process.

    Panel Moderator NERIA A. ANDIN, Assistant Director of the Forest Management Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines, said the main objective of today’s panel discussion was to address the situation in the Asia and Pacific region regarding resources, trends and future requirements.  The intention was to share knowledge and lessons learned at the regional level, and the expected output was to gain a better appreciation of successes and challenges in regional forestry management.  The endgame would be to strengthen partnership for promoting sustainable forest management in the Asia and Pacific region.

    DAVID KAIMOWITZ, Director General, Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia, presented an overview of some of the major trends affecting forests and forestry in the Asia-Pacific region.  He said the first thing that stood out when comparing Asia to other regions around the world was a high-population density and the implication that had in terms of a relatively low amount of forests and forest products that were available for each person.  On average, there was only about one half of a hectare of forest per capita in Asia, which was only one fourth of the global average.  The forest cover overall was also declining relatively rapidly, particularly relating to natural forests, as a result of logging and tree crop plantations.  Over half of that was occurring today in Indonesia, in part because it was one of the few countries in the region that still had a significant amount of forests that could be lost.  Other problems included illegal logging and corruption in the region, which involved bank fraud, bribery and misuse of billions of dollars of subsidies.

    The other side of the situation of low per capita forests and rapidly increasing demand for forests, he continued, was the planted forests, actions that were occurring in many places in Asia to respond to the growing demand and also as a response by Governments.  Asia had more than 60 per cent of the world’s plantations today, mostly in China, India and Japan, as well as in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.  Many of the poorest families in Asia depended heavily on forests for their cash, energy, medicinal plants, fodder, and for many other basic needs.  The most extreme poverty in India today was concentrated in forested and arid areas, and there had been little improvement there.  In China, 80 per cent of the poorest counties were forested, and there was also a high correlation between forests and poverty in Viet Nam.  Addressing the Millennium Development Goals meant addressing poverty in those areas.  Another new trend in the Asian regions, as relating to poor people and small farmers, was a very rapid process of forest tenure reform, transferring forests to ownership by small farmers.  For example, China had distributed 30 million hectares of wasteland and degraded forests to 57 million households to plant trees, and community forestry programmes had been introduced in Nepal and the Philippines.

    There were other new issues that had not received much attention, but which must be addressed without forgetting the old problems, he said.  One was the issue of the adaptation of climate change and the effect that would have on forest fires.  Another issue was how to manage biodiversity outside protected areas, which was fundamental for biodiversity conservation in the region.  Other trends included payment for environmental services, which he said would likely be seen a lot more in the region.  He highlighted China, which he said had six national forest programmes that had heavily invested in forests in the last five years, and which had committed $40 billion to turn farmland into forest.  He also mentioned what he called the very serious problem of violent conflict in forested regions, which had been neglected for too long by many of the Governments.  He added that the issues of ethnic minorities, abandonment, and lack of State services in Asia, as in other regions, were unfortunately a major threat to peace.

    B.C.Y. FREEZAILAH, Chairman of the Malaysian Timber Certification Council, said that sustainable forest management was a process of integrating and balancing social, environmental and economic imperatives, which must also take into consideration local realities -- forestry was not really about trees, but about people.  In general, the tropical forestry resources of the Asia and Pacific region had been severely impacted by the region’s enormous population, whose lives and livelihoods had, in turn, been seriously affected by land degradation.  Still, the international trade in tropical timber could play a strategic and catalytic role to promote implementation of sustainable forest management, as the wave of “green” consumerism represented a potent market force that could be harnessed.

    However, he added, consideration must always be given to local characteristics, as sustainable forest management practices could otherwise have serious negative impacts.  As the international conference on sharing information and experiences on private sector success stories in sustainable forest management, held in Malaysia in April 2004, had shown, unless the gap between policy and practice was bridged, sustainable forest management could not be ensured on a large scale, or in the long term.

    However, one positive finding of the conference concerned regional commitment to implementation of forest certification programmes, he added, and several countries in the region were in the process of implementing such programmes.  There was, however, a general correlation between gross domestic product (GDP) and capacity to implement sustainable forest management.  Thus, while some developed countries provided incentives for sustainable forest management, even though boreal and temperate forests were easier to manage, developing countries did not have equivalent resources to commit.  Moreover, natural tropical forests were complex in biodiversity, and management of them was technically difficult and more expensive.  Additionally, the commercial timber productivity of natural tropical forests remained extremely low, and there was a general negative perception of tropical timber due to forest governance and law enforcement issues.  Finally, natural tropical forests faced severe competition from temperate, boreal and plantation-grown timber.  Overall, the sustainable forest management of natural tropical forests had not achieved much success.

    Certification of natural tropical forests must be undertaken in stages, he stressed.  If full sustainable forest management and certification of natural tropical forests was demanded immediately, experience indicated that there would be little progress.  Instead, as in the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) example, progress should be incremental.  Many ASEAN countries were working to develop codes on impact logging, and there had been progress on a pan-ASEAN certification scheme to ensure compliance to combat illegal logging -- a scheme driven by both producer and consumer concerns.  Thus, while all credible timber certification schemes addressed the concerns of, and verified, sustainable forest management, there was a need for phased schemes.  All certification schemes had indicators to ensure compliance with relevant laws and legislation, but phased schemes also promoted understanding and cooperation between certification schemes and an acceptance of the phased approach.  There should also be coordination and harmonization of existing certification schemes, and while a small commitment of resources was needed from developing countries to implement these schemes, higher levels of targeted assistance from the donor community were also needed.  Markets must be prepared to pay a “green premium” for certified timber.

    KANCHAN LAMA, Chairperson of Society for Partners in Development, believed that achieving the Millennium Development Goals was linked to gender equality.  The latent political power within women was invisible to technically oriented institutions such as forestry, and rural poverty was rooted in the discriminatory rights to productive resources.  Rural woman –- and indigenous women in particular -– had been systematically deprived of farm information and services, as well as opportunities to participate in development planning.  The lack of women’s independent rights limited their participation in development planning, which eventually hampered achieving success in sustainable forest development.  She highlighted one effort to empower the community in Nepal through community-based management, the Gender Focal Points and Group Promoters Project, a collaborative effort in which a targeted group of men and women who were legal forestry owners developed forestry land.

    The strategy of the project, she continued, included capacity-building of group promoters and technical implementers; promoting the environment for the group promoter’s recognition as development agents; establishing their own non-governmental organizations at the district level and association at the national level for advocacy; providing continuing coaching and nurturing; networking and mentoring; and linking grass-roots-level learning and challenges to national and international forums.  The impact included the increased ownership of women in leased forest certificates; changing values at the household level; increased family income and food security; and reduced domestic violence against women.

    Lessons to be learned from the project, she said, included that social mobilization through gender mainstreaming could enhance power transformation, and that women’s lack of property rights made them vulnerable to exploitation and domestic violence and hampered participation.  Another lesson was that access to productive assets, such as leased forest land, ensured the transformation of the social and political positions of women.  Rural women had to be targeted directly, not only because they were the right users, but also because they had been discriminated against from the very beginning. She added that gender mainstreaming within technical departments was possible through building linkages among professionals and policy makers at different levels.

    HIRO MIYAZONO, Deputy Director, International Forestry Cooperation Office, Forestry Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, said his country was committed to supporting sustainable forest management as:  a prerequisite for its social, economic and cultural stability and development; an issue of global environmental concern; a matter of responsibility as a major timber-importing country; and in order to share its own experiences in sustainable forest management.  Among the country’s approaches in support of sustainable forest management figured bilateral and multilateral cooperation, the use of a regional approach, international dialogues, and cooperation through the non-governmental and private sectors.  Major progress had been seen through the Asia Forest Partnership.  Sixteen work plans had been proposed, and four had already been launched.  Furthermore, the “Announcement on Strengthening the Asia Forest Partnership” had been adopted at the Partnership’s fourth meeting.

    For its own part, he added, Japan had made efforts to establish coastal forests to prevent shifting sand, to provide windbreaks, to protect against tidal waves, and to prevent fog inflow.  Originally, there had been little vegetation cover in the areas in which protection forests were being developed.  The first stage had been to cultivate seaweed covers for sand fixation.  Then, bamboo and timber structures had been erected to protect planted saplings.  A sand embankment had also been developed, as had the use of triangular fences to serve as windbreaks.  Overall, the transformation of those coastal areas over the past half century had been remarkable, changing the scene from one of desert-like barrenness to one of verdant pine forests.  However, the pine beetle attack was now a large problem.  The Government had expended large amounts of resources to combat that problem.

    GOPA PANDEY, a member of the Forest Service of India, shared some of the happenings that were occurring every day in India regarding the country’s forests.  India had experimented with and was always trying to gauge the execution of its forest management programme.  The infrastructure facilities were not commensurate with the desires of forest management, but they tried to work with what they had.  It was important to study the social and cultural aspects of forests to obtain forest-related scientific knowledge, as well as to see how those processes had been ecologically knitted through the planning and forestry sector.  In India, instruments for planning included a national forest action plan; a State forestry action plan; a working and management plan; and a micro plan and action plan.  Increasing dialogue between the executive and local institutions was leading to sharing of knowledge and open practices.  There was also more participation by local institutions, and India anticipated great breakthroughs by including them in the process of sustainable forest management.

    The realities of sustainable forest management, she continued, included determining who was able to manage it properly and those who relied on subsistence.  She appealed to the Forum that unless forestry was included in the political agenda of the world, members would not come to the rescue of the future generations.  She added that the forest department of her country was helping the masses come up with sustainable ideas, and giving them an opportunity to proceed with their ideas for sustaining forests.  Also, the mobilization of women’s groups in the country had taken place overall, with India now having very big, active groups involving women.

    Taking the floor once more, Mr. SUNDARAM addressed the subject of logging in South-East Asia, noting that it was of concern for the United Nations given the Organization’s development, through the international conferences and summits of the 1990s, of an international development agenda, at the heart of which figured the development goals contained in the Millennium Summit.  In much of what might be termed “old” South-East Asia, the significance of logging had declined, he noted, and the focus had shifted to areas such as the outlying Indonesian islands, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.  The imposition of logging bans in some of the “old” logging areas had aimed to promote wood processing industries, yet their records of success remained quite mixed.  For example, there had been only modest contributions of timber rents in most countries.  Instead, “timber politics” had emerged, particularly at the local level, with concomitant contributions to levels of corruption.  Furthermore, it was ironic, given that one of the premises for clearing forests had been to increase agricultural land, that soil quality had been compromised by the washing away of top soils, and the sustainability of ecosystems had been compromised.

    Furthermore, he added, the increasing exhaustion of South-East Asia’s timber land had led loggers from the “old” logging areas of the subregion increasingly to seek new forested areas to exploit.  Governments were often ill-prepared to deal with the presence of those loggers, and remained unable to introduce the legislation necessary to enhance their prospects for sustainable development.  The present Forum provided an opportunity to learn lessons from the experience of the South-East Asian subregion.

    Interactive Dialogue

    Participating in the subsequent interactive dialogue with the members of the panel were the representatives of China, Indonesia, Croatia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Luxembourg (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Guatemala, United States, and Nepal.

    Taking the floor, the representative of China criticized Dr. Kaimowitz’s statement for the inaccuracy of his information.  The 1988 flood had been caused by deforestation according to experts, he agreed, but the country had not banned deforestation throughout the country in response.  Instead, it had stopped exploration in natural reservation areas.  No country could manage a forest without reasonable deforestation, which could be managed through proper legislation and which would also promote the renewal of forests.

    Indonesia’s representative described aspects of the country’s master plan for rehabilitation in the wake of the tsunami, and also noted that there had been a serious increase in the size of protected areas in recent years.  That had been achieved through implementation of sustainable forest management policies at the local level.  The Government had also pledged to add an additional 1 million hectares by the year 2006.

    The representative of Croatia then described his country’s experience with its timber certification process, following which New Zealand’s representative spoke to her country’s involvement in sustainable forest management policy-making at the regional level.  She said her country recognized the need for sustainable forest management programmes that could target multiple objectives at once, and stressed that, without targeting forest community needs, there could be no sustainable forest management.  She also noted that the issue of planted forests had been addressed by the panel, and stressed that, while replacement of natural forests with plantation forests was not desirable, planted forests did retain a place in the spectrum of sustainable forest management.

    The representative of India reiterated what some members of the panel had said regarding India’s forest planning and policy on sustainable forest management, including its national forestry action plan.  He added that India was committed to a meaningful partnership with communities, and was still working on a framework to empower communities and regarding benefit sharing.

    Responding to prior comments, Mr. KAIMOWITZ said that, regarding the concerns raised by the Government of China, it was not his intention to blame China for the forestry problems of the neighbouring countries.  On the issue of who was responsible for the forests of each country, the Chinese Government had a valid point that each country was responsible for its own forest management.  He had merely sought to point out that the increase in logging in a number of neighbouring countries had been a direct response to the rapidly growing market for forest products in some countries.  He added that he did not mean to say that there was a national logging ban.  On the topic of the flooding, he was not aware of any concrete evidence that logging had contributed to the flooding.

    In response to comments from the representative of New Zealand, Mr. Kaimowitz said that perhaps there had been some sort of confusion, because he did not recall having mentioned anything about forest plantations replacing natural forests, and that had not been a point of his presentation.

    The representative of Pakistan followed, saying that there appeared to be some polarization of views on forestry.  It was necessary to rethink strategies and to convey to the society at large that forestry was not all about forest biological diversity.  Also, plantation forestry was needed to conserve fragile ecosystems because the human population had grown out of proportion, and, therefore, some sort of further brainstorming was needed.

    Luxembourg’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the presentations had shown Asia to be a continent of contrasts characterized by rapid growth, although millions remained in poverty, especially in rural areas.  In Asia, the institutions responsible for forests faced both a challenge and an opportunity in establishing a framework for the application of knowledge concerning the management of forests.  The ratio of population to forests was lower in Asia than in other continents, as Asia accounted for more than half of the world’s population.  He added that people and forests were linked in all continents, but perhaps more so in Asia.  As such, the community forest management examples mentioned by the panel, as well as regional organizations, played a key role both in implementation and policy development.

    The representative of the United States noted her country’s participation in the Asia Forest Partnership, as well as the South-East Asia Forest Law and Governance Process.  Citing forest fires as an issue that should be further addressed in consideration of the Asia and Pacific region, she encouraged all to attend the side event to be held on development of a strategy to promote international cooperation in wildland fire management.

    Nepal’s representative also described his country’s experiences in promotion of sustainable forestry management, reflecting on its topographic aspects as a mountain country in the Himalayas, as well as the high percentage of the population dependent on subsistence livelihoods.

    The panellists then took the opportunity to respond to the comments, as Mr. MIYAZONO noted the focus on South-East Asia that had been evinced and urged participants not to forget that Japan, too, was part of the Asia and Pacific region.

    Dr. FREEZAILAH agreed with Croatia that the process of natural tropical forest certification remained slow, which was why he had encouraged a phased approach to it.  In response to a question posed by Guatemala, he said that consumers must appreciate the quality and cost involved in the certification of tropical forest timber, and accept to pay a green premium.

    Ms. PANDEY also addressed a question asked by Guatemala, stressing that countries like China, Republic of Korea and Malaysia had sought economic development, which had resulted in forest conservation, which led her country to be hopeful about its prospects for arresting deforestation.

    Ms. LAMA praised the announcement, made by the representative of Nepal, as to the introduction of a gender perspective in its forestry policy.

    Ms. ANDIN, panel moderator, summarized the discussion noting that success stories and achievements had been shared, and obstacles affecting implementation of sustainable forest management and remaining gaps in policy had been addressed.

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