Chapter 5: Forestry

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5.1 Introduction
5.2 Forest in land use
5.3 Forest production in the economy
5.4 Forest and the environment
5.5 Forests in sustainable development: future perspectives

5.1 Introduction

Forests constitute a major form of land use and have a number of highly important functions. They provide services which contribute to the well-being of people; they have a major role in the environment; and their products are vital in the economy and daily living of people. Forests constitute a renewable resource capable, with sound management, of producing valuable products. They are capable of regrowth and regeneration, and at the same time, they fulfil environmental functions of soil and water conservation and the conservation of biodiversity. The products of the forest and forest industry are generally environmentally beneficent; they have potential for being recycled either in production or in energy generation and the industries themselves have potential for high energy efficiency and low negative impact on air and water quality.

Through history, forests, as the major natural occupants of land, have been subject to clearance for agriculture, pasture and human settlements. This clearance and cutting wood for fuel, construction and industry have been in the first instance without consideration of the need to ensure sustained delivery of products and services of the forests for the future. With the growth of population and wealth, the demand for land for agriculture as well as the demand for forest products and services increase. At the same time, the side effects of other activities influence the production and service functions of the forest. Thus, the production of more and more of the goods and services of forests are in competition with one another and with other uses of the forest land.

The future development of the sector has to confront the increased demand for its products, for its services and for the conservation of increasingly scarce ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as for providing sustainable livelihoods to forest-dwelling and forest-dependent communities. At the same time (as discussed in Chapter 4), the forest area, and thereby its supply capacity, will continue to be subject to increasing pressures for the transfer of forest land to agriculture, infrastructure and urban uses. Meeting these intricately interrelated demands and resolving the conflicts among them will be a major challenge for the future. Responding to this challenge will require more efficient and environment-friendly technologies for producing forest products and safeguarding the service functions of the forest; and the recognition of forestry's important role for ensuring sustainable livelihoods in reconciling the very diverse interests in making land use decisions.

Table 5.1 Forest area in 1990

Forest area Other wooded land
(billion ha)
  (billion ha) (% of total land area)  
World 3.4 26 1.6
Developed 1.4 26 0.5
Developing tropical 1.7 378 1.0
Developing other 0.3 13 0.1

The following sections consider, in turn, the state of forests in land use and changes therein, the present and projected future role of forest products in the economy and the interrelationships between the forest and the environment. The chapter concludes with a review of the future perspectives for sustainable development of the forest.

5.2 Forest in land use

The world forest area was estimated in the FAO 1990 Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 1990; see FAO, 1993)) to be 3.4 billion ha - an average of some 0.7 ha per head of population. In this estimate, forests are defined as ecological systems with a minimum of 10 percent crown coverage of trees. In addition, there were some 1.6 billion ha of other wooded land with some woody vegetation.

Forests in the tropical zone

Natural forest

The 1990 area of the natural tropical forest, i.e. not including forest plantations, was 1.76 billion ha and accounted for 37 percent of the total land area of the tropical countries included (Tables 5.2 and 5.3). The area of forest per caput in the tropical zone was 0.72 ha. About three-quarters of the tropical forest is in the tropical rainforest zone and the moist deciduous forest zone. Dry lowland formations and upland formations each constitute about 12 to 13 percent of the total area. Deforestation is a major issue for the tropical forest. For the period 1980-90 it was estimated that the gross loss of tropical forest area (i.e. before accounting for the area added to forest by reforestation and afforestation) amounted to 15.4 million ha, or 0.8 percent of the forest area annually. This indicates a higher rate of deforestation than was estimated in the 1980 assessment.

Table 5.2 Tropical forest, estimates of forest cover area and deforestation by geographical sub-region

Geographic sub-region/ region Number of countries Land area (million ha) Forest cover Annual deforestation 1980-90
1980(million ha) 1990(million ha) (million ha) (% p a)
Africa 40 2236.1 568.6 527.6 4.1 0.7
West Sahelian Africa 6 528.0 43.7 40.8 0.3 0.7
East Sahelian Africa 9 489.7 71.4 65.5 0.6 0.9
West Africa 8 203.8 61.5 55.6 0.6 1.0
Central Africa 6 398.3 215.5 204.1 1.1 0.5
Trop. Southern Africa 10 558.1 159.3 145.9 1.3 0.9
Insular Africa 1 58.2 17.1 15.8 0.1 0.8
Asia and Pacific 17 892.1 349.6 310.6 3.9 1.2
South Asia 6 412.2 69.4 63.9 0.6 0.8
Continental SE Asia 5 190.2 88.4 75.2 1.3 1.6
Insular SE Asia 5 244.4 154.7 135.4 1.9 1.3
Pacific 1 45.3 37.1 36.0 0.1 0.3
Latin America and Caribbean 33 1650.1 992.2 918.1 7.4 0.8
C America and Mexico 7 239.6 79.2 68.1 1.1 1.5
Caribbean 19 69.0 48.3 47.1 0.1 0.3
Tropical S America 7 1341.6 864.6 802.9 6.2 0.7
Total 90 4778 3 1910 4 1756 3 15.4 0.8

In the assessment of the tropical forest resources, a high correlation has been found between the change in the forest area and the change in population density. The exact nature of the relationship varies between ecological zones. According to the model used, the process of population/forest interaction resembles a biological growth process where deforestation is observed to increase relatively slowly at initial stages of increases in the population density, much faster at intermediate stages and slowly in the final stages. This model has been used to estimate the change in the forest area where survey information on change was not available (for further discussion see FAO, 1993f).

Forest plantations in the tropical zone

Forest plantations have been established for the renewal of forests after they have been harvested and to replace forests that have been cleared for both the production of timber and fuelwood. The establishment and efficient management of forest plantations will contribute to secure both the productive and protection functions of forests, though biodiversity may be locally reduced. The total plantation area reported in 81 countries of the tropical zone was 43.9 million ha as at the end of 1990. It is estimated, taking account of imperfect stocking, that this is equivalent to an effective net area of 30.7 million ha. About one-third of the area is primarily for industrial production. The annual rate of afforestation and reforestation of 2.6 million ha is small, less than 20 percent of annual gross deforestation. The established forest plantations have a potential for wood production which is already at a level equivalent to or exceeding the developing countries' consumption of industrial wood of some 300 million cubic metres (m3) per annum.

The effective extent of tree planting is greater in that considerable numbers of trees are planted outside the forest, around the farm or household or on boundaries, roadsides and embankments. Trees outside the forest make a major contribution to fuelwood, fodder and timber supply. In addition to forestry plantations, agricultural plantations of tree crops, such as coconut, palm and rubber, have potential as a source of wood. The total estimated area (for Asia alone) is 14 million ha, made up of rubber (7.2 million ha), coconut (4.2 million ha) and oilpalm (2.7 million ha). Several million cubic metres of rubber wood and coconut stems are being utilized in sawnwood production.

Protected areas in the tropical zone

In assessing the forest resources of both the tropical and temperate regions, special consideration has been given to the degree to which measures have been put in place to conserve the wide variety of species and habitats. One such measure is the establishment of protected forest areas. Currently protected forest areas conforming with categories I-V of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) cover 266 million ha or 5.4 percent of the total land area in the tropics, coverage being about 1 percent higher in Latin America than in either Africa or Asia and the Pacific.

Forests in the temperate zone

Forests in temperate countries cover some 1.64 billion ha, of which some 1.4 billion ha are in the developed countries and the balance in the temperate forests of some developing countries (including China). The main areas are in the former USSR (0.75 billion ha), North America (0.46 billion ha) and Europe (0.15 billion ha). Forests in the developed countries cover 26 percent of the land area and the area of forest per inhabitant averages 1.13 ha. In the developing countries situated in the temperate zone the percentage of land area under forest is 13 percent and the average forest area per caput averages 0.15 ha. The land area under forest in the developed countries is largely stable with slight changes due to removal of forest for urban use or addition to forest through afforestation of surplus and unused agricultural land and pasture. Forest which is cut for timber is usually reforested by planting and natural regeneration. In Europe, the forested and wooded land area increased by 2 million ha between 1980 and 1990 (FAO, 1994b). Problems for the forests in temperate countries include damage to the forest attributed to air pollution and damage from pests, diseases and fire.

Some 300 million ha of forests are designated as protected areas in the temperate zone countries, of which some 250 million ha are in the developed countries (4.5 percent of their land area). Two percent of the land area of China and 7 percent of other temperate developing countries is designated as protected areas.

Issues of forest in land use

The state of the world's forests and the trends in changes are described above. The future development of these trends will determine the ability of forests to meet the demand for their products and services. In this discussion various factors which play a role in the changes in forests are considered with a view to identifying better the areas where policy may play a role in the future development of land use.

The forests of the developing countries are under pressure from population growth and the extension of agriculture and pasture use of land. The situation in the developed countries indicates stability in land use (see also Table 4.6), and increase in the stock and yield of forests in response to management, but there is some evidence of forest decline due to fire and environmental factors.

Institutional issues in temperate zone forests

In the developed countries forests may be in public or private ownership, or in various forms of common ownership. In most developed countries the ownership of forests is effectively demarcated and regulated under the law. The management of forest lands is in most countries subject to constraints aimed at conservation of the soil and land stability in upland regions and in a number of countries harvesting is regulated to ensure sustained yield of timber. In recent years, issues relating to the impact of harvesting and tree planting on the environment and biodiversity have emerged and have led to new policies and new legal constraints, particularly affecting public forests and policy instruments such as subsidization of private forestry. In some countries, the rights of original people to forest assets have been prominent in public debate. The issues of ownership, management and privatization of forests are matters of current discussion in many of the countries in transition in the ex-CPEs.

Tropical deforestation-causes and institutional factors

The FAO 1990 Forest Resources Assessment shows that deforestation has assumed important dimensions in the tropical zone. This section discusses possible causes and factors affecting these changes. It must be recognized, however, that data inadequacy and the complex interactions between the different factors contributing to deforestation make it difficult to establish quantitatively the extent of deforestation attributable to any particular cause. Therefore, the indications suggested here are necessarily qualitative inferences. As noted already in Chapter 4, land use statistics are unfortunately not so precise that they provide reliable information for monitoring the movement of land from one use to another. The FAO land use data indicate net increases in arable land and pasture of respectively 32 million ha (Table 4.6) and 13 million ha between 1980 and 1990 in the developing countries (excluding China). In the same period it is estimated that there has been a net reduction in the tropical natural forest area of some 150 million ha (Tables 5.2 and 5.3). Only part of this reduction is the recorded transfer from forest to agriculture and pasture. In addition to conversion to recorded agricultural uses and pasture, the main causes of deforestation are the following:

1. Conversion to subsistence agriculture and rough grazing not recognized by official agricultural land use statistics as conversion to agriculture or pasture.

2. Persistent over-cutting for fuelwood and charcoal production which reduces the forest to "other wooded land" or completely eliminates woody growth. 3. Commercial felling of timber. In the absence of further intervention such areas will naturally revert to forest. However, the construction of logging roads for commercial felling provides access and frequently facilitates conversion of forest land to other uses.

The pattern of deforestation and degradation indicates that the most intensive extension of forest clearing and forest degradation radiates out from centres of population and established agriculture. A large part comes from the informal extension of marginal agriculture and pasture by small farmers and landless people, a process which occurs without support of selection of land or crops according to productive capability, without any extension service to support the establishment of productive and sustainable agriculture and frequently without recovery of wood and woody biomass for productive use as timber or for fuel. Frequently this informal settlement of forest land involves land with poor agricultural potential and is often in upland and hilly areas. The settlers tend to be the least privileged and have the least potential for adopting the required technology and inputs for sustainable agriculture.


In many developing countries the high population growth rates, in combination with limited employment opportunities, persistent poverty, inequality of access to land and insecurity of food supply, mean that the only option for subsistence is migration, often to forest areas, to find land for agriculture or pasture and shifting cultivation. Thus, population growth occurring in such unfavourable conditions stimulates this kind of out migration and consequent deforestation. While on average some 60 percent of the net population increase in the developing countries is absorbed by migration to the urban areas, the rest is the net increase of rural and agricultural population-more in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, less in Latin America and the Near East/North Africa.

Security, resource control and people's participation

In the developing countries forest may have been assigned to public ownership but this has not always been followed up with effective demarcation. The assignment may be in conflict with traditional and communal ownership by local people. Common rights of access to and use of the forest by local people may be exercised but may or may not be legally recognized. Whether or not the forest is formally vested in public ownership, it may be regarded as available to open access by the people. National policy may encourage or permit settlement on forest land, or, perhaps more frequently, condone encroachment. The settlers may, however, have no security as regards their future supply of forest products or use of the land and therefore may have no incentive to adopt sustainable utilization practices involving investment in future production or conservative use of the forest or the land.

A consequence of population increase is a greater pressure on limited areas available to rural communities. Privatization and encroachment reduce the areas available for communal use. Traditional forms of common property resource management tend to break down. In these circumstances, the growth of population tends to lead to ungoverned and unsupported migration to areas which are less able to support an agricultural population, thus worsening the instability of an already unstable community with tenuous rights over the land which it occupies. Among the possible responses to this unsatisfactory relationship between marginalized rural communities and the use of the forest is the adoption of measures designed to increase the involvement of those communities in the management of the forest to their benefit. In these cases there is a clear need to promote people's participation in solving the problems of deforestation and low agricultural productivity.

Intersectoral policy impacts

It is clear from the foregoing discussion that the factors that have an impact on the forest, include not only the direct policies and decisions of forestry authorities but also the policies regarding crop and livestock production and the more general government policies supporting settlement and communications. They also include actions by urban authorities in search for water or energy supplies and policies to promote exports of forest products or promoting foreign investment in mining or energy generation. The pressures emanating from many directions impinge not only on the forest but also on the welfare of traditional communities dependent on the forest and on many aspects of environmental conservation.

In many countries, forest policy and legislation aim at the conservation of forest area and sustained production of timber. However, in the absence of effective regulations, institutions and incentives to secure sustained production, the long production cycle of the forest tends to lead to an exploitation aimed at obtaining immediate returns. Thus, concession agreements, if not appropriately formulated and implemented, may provide incentives for the immediate utilization of existing stocks of mature timber with little regard to the need for sustainability. Few such agreements have adequate enforcement mechanisms or provide incentives to the short-term concessionaire to secure sustained management. Thus, the practice of harvesting combined with the pressure to use the land for agriculture can contribute to deforestation, conservation policies notwithstanding.

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