UN notes Mekong region’s ‘agricultural potential’

UN notes Mekong region's 'agricultural potential'

The Lower Mekong Region has a high potential to transform from a hotbed of illegal logging and forest crimes to a hub of sustainable forestry and trade, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

A seminar on “Rosewood Illegal Logging, the Forest Crimes in Lower Mekong Region” was organised on Tuesday by the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, in Bangkok.

Akiko Inoguchi, Forest Officer of the FAO, said that illegal logging has been reduced in the Lower Mekong Region, an area shared by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. In all Lower Mekong countries, agriculture has been the main driver of deforestation while illegal logging remains, but is perceived to be at reduced levels, she said.

She said it was because of tough anti-logging measures, including an export ban on wood from natural forests, and a shift in market demand to plantation-based crops, which played a significant role in transforming the region into a hub for sustainable forestry and trade.

Global Trade Atlas cited China Customs, saying the volume of rosewood imports, which used to total about 1,100 cubic metres in 2014, has reduced to less than half that volume in 2020.

Each country is recommended to implement policies on responsible plantation development and ensure traceability.

Aomjitr Sena, officer from the Department of Royal Forest, said it has closely worked with local communities to protect and preserve the rare rosewood trees in the forest.

Forest officials patrol prime rosewood tree habitats, such as the World Heritage Site of the Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest complex and the Phu Phan and Phu Sa Bua Forest complex in the northeastern region, she said.

She added that the department has also worked closely with its Cambodian counterpart to form transboundary conservation approaches by sharing real-time information on forest monitoring and illegal activities.

Katrina Borromeo, programme and communications officer at the United Nations Environment Programme, said consumers could play an important role in protecting the forest.

The organisation conducted a survey on the rosewood purchasing behaviour among Chinese customers and found that 76% reported purchasing hardwood furniture in the past two years and that 30-39-year-olds were more likely to purchase hardwood furniture in China.

One in two respondents was reportedly not aware of the negative impacts of forest crimes. The finding showed that Chinese customers did not care or think that they had a role to play in stopping illegal logging.

“A lack of awareness bears people’s ability to actively participate in combatting illegal logging and protecting forests,” Ms Borromeo said.

“Consequently, there is a consistent increase in consumer demand for forest products from 70–90%, increasing more pressure on the region’s forests,” she added.