Thursday 20th, 2011, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands -Forests play a multiple role; they are factories that produce fibre, timber and non-wood forest products; they provide water-catchment protection; they produce water for agriculture; and they are places for social recreation.

This comment was made by Mr Inoke Wainiqolo, Fiji's Conservator of Forests and Head of the Department of Forestry when he officially opened the regional training workshop held in Nadi from 19 to 21 January 2011 to support the preparation of the Pacific contribution to the State of the World's Forest Genetic Resources Report. 'Trees and forests are among the few things that hold the key to our survival and the survival of many other forms of life, and therefore it is fitting that their multiple roles are recognised.'

'The bulk of terrestrial genetic biodiversity is located in forests and knowing that genetic resources constitute the wealth of a country, our forests play a vital role in protecting this wealth,' Mr Wainiqolo said.

He also highlighted the fact that the role of trees and forests is rapidly changing from that of mainly providers of timber to a much broader role, with social, environmental, economic and cultural dimensions.

'With this in mind, conserving forest genetic resources is vital as it is the basis of evolution and the catalyst for species adaptation to long-term environmental change. When genetic variations are lost through forest degradation or intensive breeding, successive generations will be less adaptative to adverse environmental conditions.'

'Forests not only protect natural biodiversity but also the sustainability of all other products and services that are provided by them. Forests for People is the theme of the UN International Year of Forests that is being celebrated in 2011, but this can only be realised if biodiversity is protected,' he added.

While unable to attend the workshop in person, Mr Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), sent a statement that was read out to the meeting, in which he stated that key findings from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (2010) show that, while deforestation has slowed in recent years compared to the 1990s, it is still high. This has resulted in increased carbon emissions, shortages in water and food supplies, and an unprecedented loss of forest biodiversity and genetic resources.

He stressed that the Pacific regional workshop comes at a critical time when the world's forests are facing immense pressures and challenges.

'However, the world is not sitting idle. Governments, international organisations, and forest stakeholder groups are taking action to find ways of conserving and sustainably managing forests and their genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations,' Mr Djoghlaf stated.

One such effort is the preparation of the State of the World's Forest Genetic Resources Report which will be the most comprehensive effort undertaken to date to map the genetic diversity of trees and other forest resources. 'Despite our vital interest in the conservation and sustainable use of these resources, we have been slow to inventory and understand them and the Convention on Biological Diversity recognises the need to do more in this regard and is fully supportive of increased scientific investigation.'

This is why, he added, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention, at its tenth meeting held in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010, explicitly recognised the importance of forest genetic diversity for the conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity in the context of addressing climate change and maintaining the resilience of forest ecosystems.

'The Conference of the Parties welcomed the preparation by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of The State of the World's Forest Genetic Resources Report,' Mr Djoghlaf stated.

Further, Mr Djoghlaf mentioned that forest genetic resources play a fundamental role in scientific research and in the development of commercial products in a variety of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and seed and crop industries. 'Therefore, identifying useful properties of forest genetic resources - often following leads from the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities - has helped scientists to better understand biodiversity and can enable industries to develop new products for the benefit of humankind.'

Twenty participants from 13 countries are attending the three-day meeting which is being organised by the Land Resources Division (LRD) of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in collaboration with the FAO and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).