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Press Release 97/8


ROME, 7 March -- Worldwide, deforestation is continuing at a high rate. An estimated 11.3 million hectares (ha) of the world's forests are lost each year, according to the State of the World's Forests -- 1997 (SOFO - 1997), a new UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released today.

The 200-page biennial report was released ahead of a 4-day meeting of the FAO Committee on Forestry, set for 10-13 March. The meeting will bring together senior forestry officials from around the world to review progress toward sustainable forestry management, to look at the implications the World Food Summit Plan of Action has for forestry and to guide FAO's forestry program of work for the coming two years..

SOFO - 1997 estimates the area of the world's forests, including natural forests and plantations, at about 3.5 billion ha in 1995, or 26.6 percent of the total land area of the world except for Greenland and the Antarctic.

According to SOFO - 1997: "The estimates of forest cover change in the 1990-95 period indicate a net loss of 56.3 million ha of forests (natural forests plus plantations) worldwide, representing a decrease of 65.1 million ha in developing countries which was partly offset by an increase of 8.8 million ha in developed countries." It estimated the annual rate of loss in the developing world at 0.65 percent.

Over the same period, the report says forests in the developed world expanded by some 20 million ha.

While the loss of natural forests in developing countries remains at a high level, there are signs that the rate of loss may be slowing. According to SOFO - 1997, natural forests in developing countries decreased by 13.7 million ha annually over the 1990-95 period, compared with 15.5 ha per year over the 1980-90 period.

The report says deforestation was highest in the tropical zone of the developing world, with the highest annual rate of loss over this period in tropical Asia-Oceania (0.98 percent).

Although total forest area is slowly increasing in the developed world, there has been little significant improvement in some aspects of forest condition, the report says. "Even though the widespread death of European forests due to air pollution which was predicted by many in the 1980s did not occur, deteriorating forest condition remains a serious concern in Europe and North America." Major threats to forests in the developed world include forest fires, pests, diseases and air pollution. Additionally, in developing countries, excessive collection of fuelwood and overgrazing in arid and semi-arid zones and unsustainable harvesting practices in moister areas are factors contributing to forest degradation.

The World Food Summit, convened by FAO in Rome in November 1996, stressed the importance of ensuring that increases in world food production are achieved through sustainable management of natural resources, and that they are accompanied by measures to ensure universal access to food. The FAO is helping member countries to use trees, forests and related resources to improve people's economic, social and environmental conditions, while ensuring that the forests survive to meet future needs.

According to SOFO - 1997, "Efforts to achieve worldwide food security will have an impact on forests, and will draw increasing attention to the supportive role that forests play in attaining food security."

The contributions of forests and trees to food security come through protecting the natural resource base upon which agricultural production systems depend, supplementing food supplies, providing fuel for food preparation, and generating income which makes the purchase of food possible.

FAO estimates that world food production will increase by 1.8 percent per year until the year 2010. To achieve this, some 90 million hectares of new land may be brought into agriculture in the developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. SOFO - 1997 estimates that half this is likely to come from forests, and says, "The questions are not whether forest land will be converted to agricultural land, but rather, what forest land will be converted and will such land provide greater benefit being managed for agricultural production than for forest goods and services?"

The report concludes that continued progress towards more widespread sustainable forest management will depend on: improved information on the world's forest resources; improved methods of forest valuation; continued constructive dialogue between various interested groups; and improved coordination among the various entities involved in forest management and resource use.

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