'Capacity building is essential if Pacific Islands are to meet the challenges of sustainable forest resource management.'

So said Acting Director of SPC's Land Resource Division (LRD) Inoke Ratukalou, at the opening of a three-day technical meeting organised by LRD for senior forestry officials and partners in the region to raise the profile of forestry in the Pacific, and discuss emerging issues, opportunities and possible ways forward.

'LRD will work closely with SPC member countries, international and regional partners, institutions and non-governmental organisations to develop sound forest policies and strategies that will effectively address major issues, such as food security and climate change,' he added.

He reminded the participants that the 2009 Heads of Forestry Meeting recognised that SPC's LRD had made significant progress in implementing activities in support of PICTs since 2003, and he acknowledged the support of regional partners and donors in this regard.

'The 2009 meeting also highlighted and recognised the important role that forests play in adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, a major threat faced by the region,' he said.

He went on to explain that, at that 2009 meeting, the Heads of Forestry made specific recommendations that awareness and relevant training on reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and appropriate REDD policies and institutional frameworks be developed for PICTS undertaking REDD.

LRD, in collaboration with the German Agency for International Cooperation, is implementing a regional project: Climate Protection through Forest Conservation in the Pacific Island Countries. The project is funded by the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Environment.

The regional component of this project will cover all SPC member countries and territories, but national activities will focus on three countries with large forest cover, namely, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
In addition, SPC in collaboration with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is now in the process of establishing a Pacific Regional Tree Seed Centre (PITSC).

'It is envisioned that the PITSC will act as a regional focal point for coordination and implementation of priority germplasm collection, storage, distribution and research and training,' said Ratukalou.

'This,' he added, 'will strengthen the role of SPC in distributing and exchanging crop and tree germplasm to improve the productivity of farmers and tree growers in the region.

'The areas of focus will include the development and introduction of salt-tolerant crops and drought-resistant cultivars, the diversification of crops, protection for mangrove ecosystems, the establishment of integrated catchments and coastal management systems, foreshore re-vegetation and protection, and protection and replanting of littoral vegetation.'

The Centre aims at conservation and utilisation; forest genetic diversity will be an effective tool to assist the region in meeting the challenges of food and nutritional security, and climate change.

Forty participants are attending the three-day (21-23 September) forestry technical meeting, which is being held at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi and is supported by the regional SPC\GIZ Climate Protection through Forest Conservation Project, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Australian Agency for International Development.