UN Reports Global Deforestation Slowing Down

ROME, Italy, January 24, 2001 (ENS) - The global rate of forest loss has slowed to nine million hectares per year, according to the latest global forest assessment by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Rome based agency has carried out global forest assessments for 50 years. Its latest study shows a rate of forest loss 20 per cent lower than the last global figure reported in 1995.


Illegal logging in the Congo. (Photo courtesy World Wide Fund for Nature)
Forests are disappearing most rapidly in Africa and Latin America while in Asia, the reduction of natural forests is largely compensated by new plantation forests. In Europe and North America the forest area is increasing, the survey shows.

Overall, the world contains around 6,000 square meters of forest per person. The figure is falling by 12 square meters every year.

The survey's findings show some countries still have high levels of deforestation, mainly because of conversion of forests to other land uses. But other countries show significant increases in forest cover through plantations or natural regrowth.

"These differences cannot be explained by population pressure on forests alone," said FAO director general, Dr. Jacques Diouf.

"Rather they are apparently the results of economic developments at large, and national forest or land use policies.

"Therefore, forestry surveys should address, on a sustainable basis, further development of the forestry sector, which constitutes a backbone of world food security."

Last August, the FAO revealed the first hints that deforestation was slowing around the world. Preliminary analysis of more than 300 satellite images showed the rate of deforestation in tropical countries was at least 10 percent less in the past 10 years compared to the 1980s. Half of the images showed a reduced rate of deforestation and 20 percent an increase.

"These preliminary results do not mean that the battle against deforestation is over, and a reduction in deforestation must not be used as an excuse for unsustainable forest practices," said Hosny El-Lakany, assistant director general of the FAO Forestry Department at the time.

"It does show, however, that the long-term efforts of FAO and others to build awareness of and capacity for sustainable forest management are worthwhile and should be reinforced."


FAO director general, Dr. Jacques Diouf. (Photo courtesy M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation)
Commenting on the new global assessment on forests Monday, El-Lakany said remote sensing had increased the information about forests in general. "But field surveys remain the main source of knowledge about forest dynamics and forest change," he added.

"FAO is now addressing the need for improved quality and relevance in forestry information in new proposals for future forest assessments to be discussed at the Committee on Forestry in March."

The Committee on Forestry, known as COFO, is the FAO's leading forum for international discussions on forest policy and technical issues. It will be attended by more than 100 FAO member countries, who will hear the organization's State of the World's Forests 2001 report.

To read more about the FAO's global forestry assessment, visit: http://www.fao.org/forestry/