The world’s forests continue to shrink as populations increase and forest land is converted to agriculture and other uses, but over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said in a report published today.
Some 129 million hectares of forest – an area almost equivalent in size to South Africa – have been lost since 1990, according to FAO’s forest review, The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015.
Forests help replenish groundwater supplies crucial for drinking, agriculture and other uses. They also protect soils from erosion, avalanches and landslides.
Releasing the report in Durban, South Africa, FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said, "Forests play a fundamental role in combating rural poverty, ensuring food security and providing people with livelihoods. And they deliver vital environmental services such as clean air and water, the conservation of biodiversity and combating climate change.
The report which covers 234 countries and territories, however says, an increasing amount of forest areas have come under protection while more countries are improving forest management. This is often done through legislation and includes the measuring and monitoring of forest resources and a greater involvement of local communities in planning and in developing policies.
The FAO DG, added, “an encouraging tendency towards a reduction in rates of deforestation and carbon emissions from forests, as well as improved information that can inform good policy, noting that presently national forest inventories cover 81 percent of global forest area, a substantial increase over the past 10 years.
"The direction of change is positive, but we need to do better," He further said. "We will not succeed in reducing the impact of climate change and promoting sustainable development if we do not preserve our forests and sustainably use the many resources they offer us," Graziano da Silva added.
While in 1990 forests made up 31.6 percent of the word’s land areas, or some 4,128 million hectares, this has changed to 30.6 percent in 2015, or some 3,999 million hectares.
Meanwhile, the net annual rate of forest loss has slowed from 0.18 percent in the early 1990s to 0.08 percent during the period 2010-2015.
Today, the bulk (93 percent) of the world’s forest area is natural forest – a category that includes primary forest areas where human disturbances have been minimised, as well as secondary forest areas that have regenerated naturally.
Planted forest, another subcategory, currently accounts for 7 percent of the world’s overall forest area, having increased by over 110 million hectares since 1990.
FAO’s report stresses the critical importance of forests to people, the environment, and the global economy.
The forest sector contributes about US $600 billion annually to global GDP and provides employment to over 50 million people.
Globally, natural forest area is decreasing and planted forest area is increasing and while most forests remain publicly owned, ownership by individuals and communities has increased. In all cases, FAO stresses the importance of sustainable forest management practices.
"The management of forests has improved dramatically over the last 25 years. This includes planning, knowledge sharing, legislation, policies – a whole range of important steps that countries have implemented or are implementing," said Kenneth MacDicken, leader of FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment Team.
Photo Credit: FAO /Giuseppe Carotenuto