In broad terms, the level of population in a country has two major impacts on the forestry sector. First, it is one of the main factors that determine the overall level of wood product consumption in a country. Second, it affects the amount of land that is required for agriculture, industry and urban development. Thus, population must be viewed alongside other factors such as the area of the country and the split between urban and rural population levels.
The estimated population level for Latin American in 2000 is 480 million people (WB, 2002). This amounts for 7,9 % of the world’s population and makes it one of the least populated continents. Figure 1 shows the distribution of population in the region. Brazil has the largest population with 170 million inhabitants (35 % of the total). Other countries with large populations include: Mexico (98 million people or 20% of the total); Colombia (40 million or 9%) and Argentina (37 million or 8%). These countries sum around 75% of the total Latin American population.
Figure 1 Distribution of Latin American population in 2000 (million and percentage)
Source: World Bank Development Indicators Database 2002
Peru and Venezuela also have significant population levels of 26 million and 24 million inhabitants respectively (each of them account for a further 5% of the total). The only other countries with significant population levels are Chile (15 million), Ecuador and Guatemala (12 million each). The rest of countries have 43 million inhabitants in total. (More detailed statistics about population levels in Latin America can be found in Appendix 1).
Figure 2 shows the trends in population in Latin America from 1970 to 2000, with projections to 2020 based on the UN Population projection (1998 revision) medium fertility variant (UN, 2000). The population growth rate in Latin America is less than in Africa and comparable to current rates of growth in Oceania and Asia. Overall, the annual population growth rate has fallen from 2,5% per annum during the 1970’s to 1,7% per annum during the 1990s. It is projected to decrease further to 1,1% per annum by 2020.
At the country level1, the population of Brazil, the largest in the region, is projected to fall to only 0,6 % per annum from 2000 to 2020. All other Latin American countries show population growth rates between 1% to 2% per annum over the period 2000-2020. By 2020, the total population of Latin American is projected to increase from 480 million to 612 million. This will be 28% higher than the current population level (i.e. in 2000). The population of Brazil is projected to grow by 39 million (19% higher than in 2000). The countries with very high population growth rates during this period - Nicaragua, Guatemala and Paraguay - are projected to increase by more than 35%, equal to an increase of around 3 million inhabitants in the case of Nicaragua and Paraguay and an increase of 6,6 million in Guatemala. The population of Mexico is projected to increase by 23 million, 18% higher than the population in 2000.
Figure 2 Population levels in Latin America, 1970 to 2020
Source: UN (2000)
Population density2 is an indicator of pressure on land and natural resources and of the amount of land that will be required for agriculture production and urban development. Population density varies greatly across Latin America e.g. some countries, such as Suriname and Guyana, have much lower population densities than the rest of the region whereas others, such as El Salvador, have higher population density.
Figure 3 shows the area of land per person (hectares/person) in Central America in 1970 and 2000 and the projections to 2020. The average area of land available per person in these countries has fallen from 5 Ha/person in 1970 to 3 Ha/person in 2000. By 2020, it is projected to fall to 2 Ha/ person.
Figure 3 Total land area per person in Central America, 1970, 2000 and projections to 2020
Source: UN (1998)
Figure 4 indicates the area of land per person in South America in 1970, 2000 and the projections to 2020. The average area of land available per person in these countries has fallen from 9 Ha/person in 1970 to 6 Ha/person in 2000. By 2020, it is projected to fall to 5 Ha/person. In these countries the overall density is lower due to their much bigger area.
Currently, all of the Latin American countries with the exception of El Salvador have between 10 and 1 Ha/person. Thus, population pressure is less of a problem in Latin America compared to other regions such as Asia, the Caribbean and parts of Africa. Countries with low population densities are some of the relatively large countries, such as Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina (between 7 and 13 Ha/person in 2000) and the smaller countries with minor populations e.g. Belize, Guyana and Suriname, have between 9 and 35 Ha/person in 2000. Population density in these countries is not expected to increase by much in the period 2000 to 2020.
El Salvador has only 0,3 Ha/person and is likely to be the country where increasing population density will place more pressure on land and forest resources in the future. By 2020, land availability is expected to fall to 0,2 Ha/person. Guatemala faces a similar situation, with only 0,9 Ha/person in 2000 expected to fall to 0,6 Ha/person in 2020 (Appendix 1). In Guatemala, the forests cover about fifty percent of the land area and therefore may come under a lot of pressure in the future. The only other country with particularly high population density is Costa Rica (with 77 person per square km or 1,3 Ha/person in 2000). This is expected to fall to 0, 9 Ha/person, this country is likely to have pressure on its natural resources but not as much as the aforementioned countries. Population density is not expected to increase by a lot over the period 2000 to 2020 in the rest of Latin American countries.
In countries with very low population densities, the pressure to convert forest areas to agricultural land and urban areas is likely to be limited. Most of the tropical forest resources in Latin America are in countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname and Mexico, which generally have low population densities. Thus, the pressure to convert forest land for other uses may not come from increasing population density alone, but will depend upon other factors influencing land use change such as the profitability of other land uses, discoveries of minerals or other resources, etc. In the tropical forests of Central America, population pressure alone may be a significant pressure on forest resources. In the temperate forest zone (Argentina, Chile and Paraguay) population density is also generally low, so population pressure may not be high.
Figure 4 Land area per person in South America in 1970, 2000 and projections to 2020
In countries with high population densities such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica, changes in population density are likely to place great pressure on the relatively small areas of forest left. Whether this will come from urban growth or an expansion in agricultural areas will depend upon the structure of these economies. In particular, the size of the agricultural sector will be important (agriculture is still a major sector in the economies of all three of the aforementioned countries). But these countries may reduce the pressures to convert forest to agricultural land if they can develop their service sector (e.g. tourism and banking) as has been the case in Panama3. Costa Rica may be one example of a country where this is likely to happen.
Urbanization has important implications for the future development of the forestry sector. The rural population tends to use the forest as a source of fuelwood, simple building materials and non-wood forest products. In addition, the rural population is most likely to make a living from agriculture and thus, may be a source of pressure to convert forest into agricultural land. Urban populations will generally use the surrounding land for housing and infrastructural developments. The demand for land for such developments (per person) is likely to be lower than the demand for land for agricultural use. Urban areas will expand into areas currently used for agriculture, rather than directly into forest areas and farmers displaced by urban expansion may move into forest areas. Another consequence of increased urbanization is that urban populations are likely to demand more non-wood services from forests (e.g. amenity and recreational opportunities) and this may change the way that forests are used in the future.
The pace of urbanization in Latin America is faster than in any region of the world. Only sub-Saharan Africa has levels that are comparable4. The urban population is increasing rapidly in the whole of Latin America and the proportion living in urban areas has also increased, with Belize as an exception. In Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay, the urban population has reached 80-90 % of the total by 2000.
Within Latin America, the urbanization trends are quite varied. In 1930, nearly 70% of the population of Latin America lived in rural areas and currently only 22%. Out of the 480 million inhabitants in the region only 113 million live in rural areas. Commercial, social and administrative services which can be provided in the cities and not in the rural areas and unequal distribution of land and farming, are the main reasons for urbanization. The rate of urbanization has increased from 62,5% in 1970 to 78% in 2000 and it is projected to increase up to 83% in 2020. Appendix 5 shows that the highest levels of urbanization can be found in South America, particularly in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Venezuela. In Brazil, more than 30% of the rural population migrated to the urban areas from 1970 to 2000, but still it has the highest urban population of the region with 51 million of rural inhabitants, twice the population of Peru.
Figure 5 and Figure 6 show the level of urbanization in the main Latin American countries in 1970, 2000 and projections to 2020. Urbanization does not follow any particular socio-economic or geographical pattern, with both large and small, richer and poorer, high population and low population and tropical and temperate countries having relatively high levels of urbanization.
Countries with relatively low levels of urbanization are mainly found in Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Belize) and Guyana and Suriname in South America. All of them have less than 60% of urban population. In these countries, urbanization is projected to remain below 60%, except in Suriname and Costa Rica, which would cross this level by 2020.
Urbanization is expected to reach between 70-94% in South American by 2020, particularly in the following countries: Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru; Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Figure 5 Proportion of urban population in Central America, 1970, 2000 and projections to 2020
Source: UN (1998).
Figure 6 Proportion of urban population in South America in 1970, 2000 and projections to 2020
Source: UN (1998).
1 Because of the uncertainty about the projections for French Guiana, this
country is excluded from most of the comparisons and analysis at the individual
2 Number of people per unit of area or, alternatively, the amount of land available per person.
3 Paraguay and Bolivia have the greatest GDP contribution from the agricultural sector
4 Development Beyond Economics Inter-American Development Bank 2000 Report.