World's forests shrink one per cent

2018 report sounds alarm bells; highlights good conservation examples

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

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Latin America is one of three regions where deforestation persists, according to The State of the World's Forests 2018, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) last Friday.

The report indicates that although the rate of loss has slowed down in recent years, the percentage of the world's land area covered by forests between 1990 and 2015 decreased from 31.6 per cent to 30.6 per cent.

The loss occurred mainly in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

According to the report, which describes deforestation as the second leading cause of climate change – after the burning of fossil fuels – the loss occurred primarily in places where the demand for charcoal is high, its production putting pressure on forest resources, especially when access to these forests is not regulated.

The proportion of people who depend on firewood, it said, varies from 63 per cent in Africa to 38 per cent in Asia, and 16 per cent in Latin America.

Deforestation, the report said, accounts for almost 20 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than the entire transport sector.

The report showed that there is a close relationship between forests and poverty, outlining that forests and trees provide about 20 per cent of the income of rural households in developing countries. Also, according to the report, there is a strong relationship between areas of extensive forest cover and high poverty rates: in Brazil, for example, just over 70 per cent of closed forest areas (dense, with large canopy cover) had high poverty rates.

According to SOFO, in Latin America, eight million people subsist on less than US$1.25 a day in tropical forests, savannahs and their surroundings. Globally, more than 250 million people live below the extreme poverty line in these areas: 63 per cent are in Africa, 34 per cent in Asia and only three per cent in Latin America.

Although Latin America's participation in the global total is low, it should be noted that the vast majority (82 per cent) of those living below the poverty line in rural areas of Latin America live in tropical forests, savannahs and their surroundings.

With a total of 85 million people living in tropical forests, savannahs and in their surroundings in Latin America, caring for forests will be a key factor in moving towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

But there is hope, as according to the report, the amount of forests managed for soil and water conservation have increased worldwide in the last 25 years, with the exception of Africa and South America. (Only nine per cent of the forest area of South America is managed with the objective of protecting soil and water, well below the global average of 25 per cent).

Among the good examples the report highlights are Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, and Costa Rica.

In Guatemala – where 70 per cent of the forest land is under some kind of protection – community forestry companies manage more than 420,000 hectares within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. With State-granted forest concessions, they obtained revenues of US$4.75 million for the sale of certified wood and US$150,000 for the sale of non-wood forest products in one year (2006 to 2007). They generated more than 10,000 direct jobs and some 60,000 indirect jobs, and in addition, workers were paid more than twice the minimum wage (World Resources Institute, 2008).

In Mexico, starting in 1997 an important programme was launched to help communities create forestry companies. Today, more than 2,300 community groups manage their forests for timber extraction, generating significant income for communities and households.

The Tijuca National Park, located in Rio de Janeiro, has an area of ​​4,000 hectares and was declared a cultural landscape world heritage site by UNESCO in 2012. In order to confront the proliferation of exotic species and urban expansion, the park has been reforested with native trees and recreational infrastructures have been built to involve the local community and raise awareness about the importance of protecting urban forests.

Since 1999, the park has been jointly managed by the city of Rio de Janeiro and the Ministry of the Environment and with the conversion of the Atlantic forest that it hosts into a sanctuary for a great diversity of endemic species, is today an exceptional natural environment for its 2.5 million annual visitors.

In Costa Rica, one of the main ecotourism destinations in the world, 2.9 million foreign tourists visited in 2016, with 66 per cent of them declaring that ecotourism was one of their main reasons.

The tourists spent an average of US$1,309 per person, reporting income to the country of US$2,500 million, related in part to ecotourism, which is equivalent to 4.4 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product.

It is estimated that, in 2015, forest conservation areas received approximately one million non-resident visitors and 900,000 national visitors.

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