The call for a concerted effort to conserve and sustainably manage our forest and tree resources is nothing new. It has, however, become more urgent, given the inability of many of the countries in the Pacific to move closer to this goal.

These comments were made by Mr Inoke Ratukalou, Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Land Resources Division (SPC LRD), during the launch of the International Year of Forests organised by Fiji's Ministry of Fisheries and Forests.

'We need to take action now and stop making excuses - time is no longer on our side.

'The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations are opening up opportunities for new investments in forestry, such as the REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism.' He said.

He added that new trade arrangements and technological advances are providing incentives to develop new crops and products sourced from our forest and tree resources, effectively increasing the range of products to trade in.

'However,' he added, 'we need to ensure that we are well positioned to capture these opportunities through a united front.'

Mr Ratukalou commended the Government of Fiji's Ministry of Fisheries and Forests on the great strides that are being made in the forestry sector.

'Fiji is now ahead of all the other countries in the Pacific in terms of its REDD-readiness programme and these achievements are a reflection of the excellent ability of the Ministry to mobilise the support of all stakeholders and to build trust among them.

'But there is still more that needs to be done and I encourage you all to maintain this course and become a symbol of success and hope for others in the Pacific and beyond,' he added.

Mr Ratukalou also highlighted the various activities that are being carried out by SPC LRD to celebrate the International Year of Forests regionally. 'After the United Nations Forum on Forests officially launched The International Year of Forests early this year, various activities were organised to celebrate it, with the main aim of fostering more effective knowledge exchange on practical strategies to promote sustainable forest management,' he explained.

The Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services Meeting (held in Nadi, Fiji, in September, 2010) recommended that SPC LRD organise a regional activity and that individual Pacific Island countries and territoriesorganise complementary national activities to celebrate the International Year of Forests.

In response to the HOAFS' recommendation, SPC LRD is currently working on a number of activities, which include the following:

- Publication of a book on Pacific forestry
- Regional awards, and essay writing and poster competitions
- A DVD on the importance of forests and trees in the Pacific, including a training documentary on the production of sandalwood in Fiji
- A Heads of Forestry technical consultation meeting.

SPC will continue to organise seminars, media fora and press releases throughout 2011 in recognition of the International Year of Forests and to raise awareness about the importance of forests and trees.

For Pacific Islanders, the International Year of Forests provides a unique opportunity to raise the profile of forests by organising relevant activities towards celebrating and communicating to members of the public the vital role that forests play in our well-being, and to highlight the need to conserve and sustainably manage this important resource.