FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Forest loss slows in South America, protected areas rise

New FAO report highlights that South America still has the world’s second highest rate of forest loss.

South America´s rate of net forest loss fell to about half during the 2010-2020 period when compared to the ten previous years.

May 7th 2020, Santiago, Chile - The rate of forest loss has declined substantially in South America, says a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020.

According to the FAO, South America´s rate of net forest loss fell to about half during the 2010-2020 period when compared to the ten previous years, 2000-2010However, forest area in the region is still declining: in spite of the slower rate of deforestation, South America lost 2.6 million hectares of forest every year in the 2010-2020 period, the second largest annual rate of net forest loss in the world, with Africa having the highest rate, at 3.9 million hectares a year.

Globally deforestation also continues, albeit at a slower rate, with 10 million hectares a year being converted to other uses since 2015, down from 12 million hectares a year in the previous five years, according to the key findings of the FAO flagship report that is conducted every five years. 

Protected areas

According to the FAO, there is an estimated 726 million hectares of forest in protected areas worldwide: of the six major world regions, South America has the highest share: 31 percent of its forests are in protected areas.

The area of forest in protected areas globally has increased by 191 million hectares since 1990, but the rate of annual increase slowed in 2010–2020.

South America lags behind in forest management

The area of forest under management plans is increasing in all regions – globally, it has increased by 233 million hectares in the last twenty years, reaching 2.05 billion hectares in 2020.

The Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020 says that while most of the forests in Europe have management plans, management plans exist for less than 25 percent of forests in Africa and only 17 percent in South America have long-term management plans.

“Long term sustainable management plans are crucial to reduce deforestation, increase forest protection and ecosystems services that forest ecosystems provide. Management plans may also guide forest restoration practices and increase of forest cover taking into account social, economic and environmental considerations” said Pieter van Lierop, FAO Forestry Officer.

Most of the world’s forests are publicly owned although the share of privately owned forests has increased since 1990. Over 60 percent of forests in South America are now publicly owned and a little over 30 percent in private hands, including indigenous peoples and lands managed by local communities.

Plantation forests advance in the region

Globally, the highest share of plantation forest is in South America, where it represents 2 percent of the total forest area.

While, 44 percent of the world’s plantation forests are composed of introduced species, in South America they consist almost entirely of introduced species.

“Plantations are important to reduce the pressure on natural forest, so fill the demand for timber and other forest products. It is important to highlight that the establishment of plantations has to consider appropriate species, biodiversity conservation criteria, and management practices and models to reduce fire risks, and should never substitute natural forest”, van Lierop explained.