Delivering the parley’s inaugural address, President Sirisena pointed out that more than 50 percent of the land area in Sri Lanka was covered by forests two centuries ago and now the total dense forest cover of the island is only estimated at 29.7 percent of the total land area of the country.
“Sri Lanka is now highly committed to conserve its existing forest cover and enhance to 32 percent by adopting better practices, to improve land governance, as a key measure to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals target,” the President added.
The Government was keen to raise the forest cover and manage the forests sustainably since they provide many socio-economic benefits, including food, energy and shelter which are basic human needs. In order to conserve the environment and the waterways the government banned felling of trees over 5,000 feet elevation. Reforestation has been the responsibility of the Forest Department.
“With the coordination of many other Government Ministries, Local Government institutions and cooperative societies we have commenced a project to plant five million trees by 2020,” the President said.
The President stressed the need to involve the younger generation in this effort.
“We are commencing a project to motivate and encourage the country’s 4.3 million schoolchildren to plant at least one tree in their home garden, school premises or wherever possible. We will help and support the plant growth by helping the children financially.
We will allocate to them by their personal name. We will persuade them to plant trees that could bring some income to the children and the households. This will encourage and make the children aware of their duty to conserve and preserve Nature,”President Sirisena said.
The President noted that more than 50 percent of the forest cover in Sri Lanka was lost due to clearing of forests to be used for export oriented agriculture, and large agricultural land settlements.
“Forest destruction has caused severe environmental hazards in many parts of the country. It has affected rainfall patterns, soil erosion and destruction of agricultural products.”
He thanked the FAO for the assistance given to Sri Lanka and its people, especially during periods of national disasters such as floods, drought and landslides that occurred causing much damage especially to poor farming communities, by providing them with urgently required food and provisions.
The President also thanked the FAO Director General for inviting him to address the opening session of the 24th Session of the Committee on Forestry and described it as a great honour to Sri Lanka, and personally to him.
“As the Minister of Agriculture and later as the Minister of Environment and Natural resources, as at present, I had very intimate relationship with FAO,” he recalled. “And now is my turn to address this august assembly as the Head of State”.
“I am aware that, the Committee on Forestry is the right platform for you to share your knowledge, discuss, debate and take decisions for the progressing of global forestry sector.
The agenda ahead of you is very comprehensive and challenging,” he told the experts gathered in Rome.