Other Findings

Wood volume and biomass

Wood volume and woody biomass levels are important indicators of the potential of forests to provide wood and to sequester carbon. Total standing wood volume (m3) and above-ground woody biomass (tonnes) in forests were estimated for 166 countries, representing 99 percent of the world¿s forest area. The world total standing volume in the year 2000 was 386 billion cubic metres of wood. The global total above-ground woody biomass was 422 billion tonnes, of which more than one-third was located in South America (with about 27 percent in Brazil alone). The worldwide average above-ground woody biomass in forests was 109 tonnes per hectare. South America had the highest average biomass per hectare at 128 tonnes. Countries with the greatest standing volume per hectare include many in Central America (such as Guatemala with 355 m3 per hectare) and Central Europe (such as Austria with 286 m3 per hectare), the former having high-volume tropical rain forests and the latter having temperate forests that have been managed to achieve high stocking levels.

Forest plantations

Forest plantations are defined as "forest stands established by planting and/or seeding in the process of afforestation or reforestation...". Because of their increasing significance as a supply of fibre for wood industries, rubber (Hevea spp.) plantations were included as forest plantations for the first time. Despite the high losses of the world¿s natural forests at the global level, new forest plantation areas are being established at the reported rate of 4.5 million hectares per year, with Asia and South America accounting for more new plantations than the other regions. About 70 percent of new plantations, or 3.1 million hectares per year, are considered to be successfully established. Of the estimated 187 million hectares of plantations worldwide, Asia had by far the largest area, accounting for 62 percent of the world total. In terms of composition, Pinus (20 percent) and Eucalyptus (10 percent) remain the dominant genera worldwide, although the diversity of species planted was found to be increasing. Industrial plantations (producing wood or fibre for supply to wood processing industries) accounted for 48 percent of the global forest plantation estate and non-industrial plantations (e.g. for provision of fuelwood or soil and water protection) for 26 percent. The purpose of the remaining 26 percent was unspecified.

The extent of plantations in industrialized countries was less clear than in developing countries. Many industrialized countries make no distinction between planted and natural forests in their inventories.

FRA 2000 identified the ten countries with the largest plantation development programmes (as reported by percentage of the global plantation area) as China, 24 percent; India, 18 percent; the Russian Federation, 9 percent; the United States, 9 percent; Japan, 6 percent; Indonesia, 5 percent; Brazil, 3 percent; Thailand, 3 percent; Ukraine, 2 percent and the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1 percent. These countries account for 80 percent of the global forest plantation area.

Distribution of forest plantations by region

Trees outside the forest

FRA 2000 was the first of FAO¿s global assessments that attempted to consider trees outside the forest (TOF) - defined as trees on land not classified as forest or other wooded land. Despite the fact that TOF often play an important role in the livelihoods of the rural population, especially of women, they are often overlooked, both in forest resource assessments and in policy and decision-making processes. The consequent scarcity of information made it impossible to draw conclusions on the resource. Complicating the collection of data was the fact that neither traditional forest inventories nor modern remote sensing technology are very useful for conducting a quantitative assessment of TOF. Most of the information on trees outside the forest is site specific and scattered among different institutions and sectors, including informal sectors. The major contributions of FRA 2000 to expanding knowledge of this resource are case studies and reviews of methodologies that will be useful in future assessments, which will help to raise the awareness of the significance of TOF, especially to the lives of the rural population.

Biological diversity

FRA 2000 provides information with relevance for a number of indicators of forest biological diversity, principally new maps and detailed descriptions of forest ecological zones that are more comprehensive than those of any previous assessment. New maps of forest cover provide updated knowledge about forest fragmentation and related indicators of forest health and diversity. In addition, studies on endangered forest species and on effects on spatial attributes of forests which may influence biological diversity were carried out in the context of FRA 2000.

Forest management

Initiatives to promote sustainable forest management have stimulated many countries to implement forest management plans. FRA 2000 did not undertake a comprehensive assessment of all indicators of forest management, since most countries have only recently started to assess and monitor criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management. It would be advantageous for future global assessments to include more indicators. However, FRA 2000 did ask countries to report on forest areas under management plans. At least 123 million hectares of tropical forests are now reportedly subject to management plans, as are 89 percent of the forests in industrialized countries. However, monitoring is needed to assess implementation of these plans.

Protected forests

At the global level, 12.4 percent of the world's forests were estimated to be in protected areas according to the categories defined by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). This estimate was obtained by overlaying the new FRA 2000 forest cover map and a map of protected areas prepared for FAO by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). The statistics for area of forest under protection obtained through this method were different from, and generally lower than, the areas reported by countries. Clarifying definitions and improving methods for data capture would help future efforts in this area.

Forest fires

FRA 2000 undertook a comprehensive study of forest fires during the 1990s. While statistics were available for fewer than 50 countries (none in Africa) a number of qualitative assessments were carried out on a national basis and published on the FAO Web site. In those countries where long-term data are available, the evidence indicates an increase in wildfires in the 1990-2000 period compared with most of the previous decades in the second half of the twentieth century, although available records and qualitative assessments show that the 1980-1990 period may have been equally severe. The climate phenomenon known as El Niño was implicated as a major contributing factor to the severe forest fires in the 1990s (as well as the 1980s). El Niño provoked severe droughts in generally humid or temperate areas, enhancing the potential for devastating fires.

Fire continued to be used as a major tool for land clearing and as a management tool for pasture and browse improvement in a number of developing countries. These uses need to be considered in statistics related to forest wildfires.

Wood supply

Using a combination of global databases, statistical information and GIS technology, it was estimated that 51 percent of the world¿s forests are within 10 km of major transportation infrastructure and potentially accessible for wood supply. This proportion increased to 75 percent for forests within 40 km from transportation infrastructure. The highest accessibility was found in subtropical forests (73 percent within 10 km of transportation infrastructure) and the lowest accessibility was found in boreal forests (34 percent within 10 km of transport).

Information on wood removals and harvesting was analysed for all major industrialized countries. Because very few tropical countries reported this information, a special study was carried out for 43 tropical countries which account for approximately 90 percent of the world¿s tropical forest resources. It was found that timber harvesting occurred at a wide range of intensities, between about 1 and 34 m3 per hectare per year. There was very little evidence of implementation of low-impact logging or other model harvesting practices in the tropics.

Non-wood forest products

In many countries, especially the world's poorest countries, non-wood forest products (NWFP) are a critical component of food security and an important source of income. FRA 2000 represents the most comprehensive assessment of NWFP to date. Data were collected at the national level and validated through a series of subregional workshops. Historically, Asia is the only region where much information has been collected and reflected in national accounts, mainly because of the relatively high level of use of NWFP throughout the region. In Asia NWFP have long been an important part of national and local economies.

last updated:  Monday, September 19, 2005