Global Forest Resources Assessments

Improving data on primary forests in Latin America and the Caribbean

More accurate information needed on the region’s biodiversity hotspots

19 April 2021, Jalisco, Mexico – Forestry experts are meeting this week to improve understanding of primary forests, some of the most unique biodiversity hotspots in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

More than 30 representatives from governments, and international and research organizations will attend a virtual workshop to improve data on tropical and subtropical primary forests in the region. 

The five-day event is hosted by the National Forestry Commission of Mexico (Conafor) and organized in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

According to the FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessment 2020 (FRA 2020), primary forests are defined as naturally regenerated forests of native tree species, where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and ecological processes are not significantly disturbed.

“Primary forests are highly ecologically significant ecosystems for provision of critical ecosystem services such as biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation, and freshwater provision, among others,” said León Jorge Castaños Martínez, CONAFOR Director-General, opening the event. In the LAC region, they also play a vital role for maintaining the livelihoods and culture of many Indigenous Peoples and local communities.”

Gaps in reporting

Knowing the primary forest extent and their trends helps formulate adequate environmental policies and meet important targets, in particular the Sustainable Development Goal 15, Life on Land. According to FRA 2020, the world still has at least 1.11 billion hectares of primary forest. However, primary forests continue to decline globally. Since 1990, 81 million hectares of primary forests have been lost worldwide.

Lack of reliable data on the extent of primary forests is a cause for concern, with many countries and territories relying for their estimates on proxies such as the area of forest in national parks and other conservation areas. Moreover, few countries report information on trends in primary forests and the data do not indicate whether decreases in primary forest area are due to deforestation or conversion to another forest type, including to planted forests.

Of the ten countries invited to the workshop – Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela – only four reported primary forest data for FRA 2020. 

“Improving primary forest data is crucial to better understand and consider the role they play in delivering ecosystem services and contribute to achieving SDGs, Paris Agreement and the post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” said Anssi Pekkarinen, Senior FAO Forestry Officer and FRA Team Leader.

Monitoring primary forest extent and changes

Participants in the workshop will review the available data on tropical and subtropical primary forests in the region and assess the different approaches countries have adopted to monitor and report on these invaluable ecosystems.

They will also discuss emerging methods and technologies with experts from organizations that are involved in primary forest monitoring, including the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Tropical Timber Organization, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, the UN Environment Programme - World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the Griffith University, Queensland (Australia).

This regional workshop is the second of a series of FAO events aimed at improving consistency, comparability, completeness, and quality of global reporting on primary forests. The first workshop focused on primary forests in the boreal biome.

The proceedings and findings from these events will be compiled in a special study including guidance and operational methodologies to improve the reporting on primary forest area and its changes. The primary forest study is conducted by FAO with the financial support of the European Union. 

Related links

Putting the spotlight on the boreal primary forests 

Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) Programme

Comisión Nacional Forestal (CONAFOR)

FRA platform