FAO’s millennium forest findings


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Once every ten years, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) assesses the state of the world’s forests. In keeping with this tradition, last month FAO released a summary of its ’Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000’. The report says the tropics continue to lose 13.5 million hectares of natural forest each year, an area about the size of Greece. Meanwhile, tropical forest plantations have been growing 1.8 million hectares per year and troical secondary forest has naturally regenerated on an additional one million hectares per year. Outside the tropics, total forest area (including plantations and natural forest) has been rising by 2.7 million hectares per year.

The report suggests that tropical deforestation rates may have fallen in recent years, but does not prove it. One cannot compare most of its findings with those from previous reports because the definitions, data sources, and methodologies differ too much. The only really comparable deforestation statistics in the report come from two surveys of pan-tropical land use changes based on satellite images. These surveys show annual deforestation rates declined slightly over the last ten years, but the difference is not statistically significant.

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Myanmar (in that order) were the countries that lost the most forest during the 1990s. Apparently, Sudan and Zambia lost mostly open woodland. Brazil’s total forest area diminished 22 million hectares over the decade, while Indonesia’s forest area declined by 13 million hectares.

In contrast, total forest area rose 18 million hectares in China, 9 million hectares in Europe, and 4 million hectares in the United States. Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, India, Uruguay, and Vietnam also saw their forest area expand, while forest cover remained virtually unchanged in Afghanistan, Bhutan, Dominican Republic, Gabon, Iran, North Korea, and Surinam.

The 2000 forest assessment also contains data on area under forest management plans, forest certification, forest fires, protected areas, and timber volumes.

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Further reading

You can download the summary of the forest resource assessment at: ftp://ftp.fao.org/unfao/bodies/cofo/cofo15/X9835e.pdf

Or, if you prefer, you can request a free electronic copy of the summary (as a pdf file) from Ambar Liano at: a.liano@cgiar.org (The paper is only available in English.)

You can send comments about the assessment to Robert Davis at: robert.davis@fao.org

The home page of the FAO forest resource assessment is: http://www.fao.org/forestry/fo/fra/index.jsp