Forests and the forestry sector
Brazil has the largest expanse of tropical forest in the world and approximately 64 percent (about 544 million hectares) of its territory has some form of forest cover.
The natural forest area with timber potential is put at approximately 412 million hectares. Of this, some 124 million hectares are in the public domain and include national forests, reserves of indigenous populations, national parks and other conservation areas. Most of the remaining 288 million hectares are under private ownership. An estimated 15 percent of the 12 million hectares of forest with timber potential are under permanent conservation, for example as river banks or water springs, as prescribed by the Forest Code. That leaves an effective availability of natural forest of approximately 350 million hectares.
Forest plantations cover approximately 6 million hectares, which places Brazil first in Latin America. Eucalyptus accounts for 59 percent of this area, pine for 37 percent and other species for 4 percent. Plantation forests have a volume estimated at 775 million m3 and a sustainable production potential of 113 million m3 per year.
The Amazon region supplies over 30 million m3 of roundwood, which corresponds to approximately 85 percent of annual natural forest production. Virtually all of this is for the domestic market, making Brazil the world's largest consumer of tropical wood. Roundwood processing is generally inefficient and actual production equates to only 35 percent of the harvested volume, which implies a very high level of waste. Brazil accounts for 4 percent of the world tropical wood market.
Although approximately one-third of the planet's tropical rainforests are in Brazil's Amazon region, which covers more than 300 million hectares and has an export potential of 15 000 million m3 of timber, Brazil's share of this trade is in fact very limited as the exportation of roundwood logs has been banned since 1980.
Non-wood forest products, such as the Brazil nut, rubber and palm hearts, are very important and generate significant local employment and income.
The evolution of plantation forests can be divided into three periods. Until 1966 they covered a small surface area and were geared towards the emerging steel industry and the railways. Then, from 1967 to 1987, there was a period of fiscal incentives and large afforestation programmes, which led to some 4 million hectares being planted. This was followed by reduced planting from 1988, when the incentives were withdrawn, but this did not prevent the sector from becoming an important component of the national economy, with the pulp and paper sector attaining international importance and Brazil featuring as the world's leader in fast-growth, high-yield plantation techniques progressing from growth rates of 20m3/ha/year to 40 m3/ha/year.
The economic contribution of Brazil's forestry sector is estimated at US$ 53 000 million, representing about 6.9 percent of total GDP. Brazil accounts for 2.4% of the global market for forest products. In 1998, forest exports accounted for 7.1 percent of total exports in terms of value and in 2001 amounted to approximately US$ 3 200 million.
Consumption of natural forest roundwood for industrial processing, wood and charcoal is estimated at an annual 175 million m3.
The forest industry has had an important economic and social impact on the country's development. National production of sawnwood posted cumulative growth of more than 47 percent from 1986 to 1996. Another important aspect has been the contribution of conifer wood from plantations, which increased from 1 million m3 in 1986 to 4 million m3 in 1996. The largest consumer of sawnwood continues to be civil construction (38 percent) followed by the furniture and higher added-value sector (35 percent).
The average annual production of board amounts to some 2.7 million m3.
The pulp and paper sector consumes 108 million m3 of plantation wood each year, corresponding to some 400 000 ha of plantations. As regards external trade, Brazil accounts for 2 percent of the global market for pulp and paper, 3.5 percent for plywood, 8 percent for veneer and 2 percent for chipboard.
Last updated: January 2003