UN FAO Calls for More Effort to Save World's Forests

The final report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization - FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010 - says global deforestation has decreased over the past 10 years, but remains alarmingly high in many countries.

More than 900 experts from 178 countries contributed to the Forestry Resources Assessment report, which is the result of a four-year effort.  The final report was published Monday at the start of the latest meeting of the FAO's Committee on Forestry.  Representatives from more than 100 countries are attending the meeting at FAO headquarters in Rome October 4-8.

The study states that deforestation, mainly the conversion of tropical forests to agricultural land, has lessened over the past 10 years, although it still is exceedingly high in many countries.

Mette Wilkie, coordinator of FAO's Forestry Resource Assessment, said, "Probably around 13 million hectares of forests were lost through deforestation or natural causes each year in the last decade.  That's down from an estimated 16 million hectares per year in the previous decade, 1990-2000.  So there are some indications for the first time that the rate of deforestation is going down, but it does continue at alarming rate in many countries still."

Wilkie says countries like Brazil and Indonesia have both managed to significantly reduce their deforestation rates in the past 10 years.  In Brazil, there's been a very high political will to do this and they've had an excellent monitoring system put in place to detect very early on cutting of forests.  In Indonesia, too, she said there's been more emphasis on sustainable forest management.

The FAO official said the aim of this week's meeting is to create awareness of what is happening, where it's happening and why its happening - and to find out what the underlying causes are.

"The main cause by far is the conversion of forested area to agriculture, to crops, to livestock production in developing countries," said Wilkie.  "And, of course, we need additional production of food where we're having an increase in population.  So the issue here is how to find a balance of trying to increase the effective use of land for agriculture and to find better ways of using the forests so that they also generate livelihoods and income, other than being converted into agricultural crops."

The report does not only address deforestation but a number of related subjects. These all are going to be discussed this week.

"We're looking at the balance that we need between people, climate change, conservation of biodiversity in forests," said Wilkie.  "We're looking at how to better finance sustainable forest management and share the benefits, and additionally how we communicate those findings that we have in a better way, particularly leading up to next year, which is the International Year of Forests."

The U.N. agency emphasizes that forests where humans have intervened can still hold important biodiversity values, contribute significantly to environmental protection, and sustain livelihoods, provided they are well managed.

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