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Countries taking action to save world's declining forests, according to report

Over 11 million hectares of forest cover are lost throughout the world each year, according to the latest edition of FAO's biannual review State of the World's Forests (SOFO). Between 1990 and 1995, the total area of forests decreased by more than 56 million hectares - developed countries saw a net increase of almost 9 million hectares, but developing countries posted a loss of over 65 million hectares.

Bamboo forest in Uganda
(FAO/17533/R. Faidutti)

Change in forest area from 1980 to 1995
(Source: FAO, State of the World's Forests 1999)

The findings of SOFO 1999 will be discussed by heads of forest services, senior government officals, representatives of international organizations and non-governmental groups participating at the 14th Session of FAO's Committee on Forestry (COFO) in Rome from 1 to 5 March. "SOFO will help facilitate informed discussion and decision-making", according to M. Hosny El-Lakany, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Forestry Department. The Committee on Forestry meets biannually to discuss emerging forestry issues, seek solutions and advise on appropriate action.

Insect pests and diseases, fire, overharvesting of industrial wood and fuelwood, poor harvesting practices, overgrazing and air pollution are just a few of the common enemies that erode the world's forests, according to SOFO. Extraordinary events in 1997 and 1998, however, caused the period to be one of the bleakest for the forestry sector - new insect pest and disease outbreaks were reported in many regions of the world, the United States and Canada were hit by crippling ice storms, and dramatic wildfires affected forests everywhere.

"Nearly all types of forest burned in 1997-1998, even some tropical rain forests which had not burned in recent memory", according to the report. Unusually large fires in Indonesia, the Amazon and Mexico increased public awareness of these national disasters. Droughts associated with the El Niño were largely to blame, turning moist forests into tinder-boxes of forest vegetation, but, according to SOFO, many of these great fires were "predominantly man-made".

These sobering events have spurred the international community to take more active measures to halt the spread of deforestation. Many countries have recently introduced new logging regulations, adopted more enlightened management practices, and improved recycling and manufacturing efficiencies in wood processing, for example. Another encouraging trend is the increasing designation of large tracts of forest as strict conservation areas.

The Philippines, for example, recently banned all logging in old-growth and virgin forests and placed these forests under a national protected area system. In China, a similar ban on timber harvesting in natural forests was imposed in July 1998. In Suriname, 1.5 million hectares of natural forest - one-tenth of the country's total land area - was set aside as a wilderness reserve in 1998. Brazil, Cambodia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the United States, among others, have also recently either banned or severely restricted timber harvesting in primary forests, according to SOFO.

A Ministerial Meeting on Sustainability Issues in Forestry, the National and International Challenges, has also been convened for 8 to 9 March at FAO headquarters in Rome. Topics on the meeting agenda will include issues and options for international instruments to support sustainable forest develoment, global action to address forest fires, and the observations and recommendations of the 14th session of COFO on the proposed FAO Strategic Framework for the years 2000 to 2015.

"State of the World's Forests 1999" is available from the FAO Sales and Marketing Group, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy, or E-mail Publications-sales@FAO.Org.

1 March 1999

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