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MALAYSIA: State of Sarawak Forests: Gov’t Agency Stands by Report

By Anil Netto

PENANG, Malaysia, Nov 30, 2009 (IPS) - For a long time, activists had believed that rainforests in the vast northwest Borneo state of Sarawak were being logged unsustainably, rapidly making way for tree (acacia) plantations, oil palm plantations, dams and secondary growth. But few listened.

Their position was confirmed when the country’s auditor-general presented to Parliament last month its 2008 annual report criticising forestry management in Malaysia's largest state as "unsatisfactory". Earlier this month Sarawak state authorities denied the auditor-general’s findings.

The report produced a host of findings to back up its conclusion: depleted permanent forest reserves had not been replaced while some proposed forest reserves had not yet been gazetted. There was also no compulsory requirement for all logging license holders to obtain approved environment impact assessment reports before proceeding. Annual cut rates had been exceeded, if all forests were taken into account.

It noted that poor enforcement and monitoring had led to illegal logging and contributed to environmental degradation, especially river pollution, erosion, landslides, mud deposits and floods.

Sarawak's Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management Awang Tengah Ali Hassan (the First Minister is long-serving Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud) expressed unhappiness with the report. He said it did not reflect the overall situation as the auditors made random conclusions about the long-term management of the state's forests.

"By taking the feedback of the Sarawak Forestry Department, I believe a more balanced and accurate perspective (on the state's forest management) will be registered," he was reported as saying by national news agency Bernama.

Awang Tengah claimed the auditor-general's department did not have the forestry management expertise, and information by the state forestry department was not taken into account in the audit report. He said the auditor-general had written to him on Oct. 29 and had agreed to take into account feedback from the forestry department.

When contacted, a spokesperson at the auditor-general’s department in Putrajaya said the matter has been "resolved"—the department is accepting a commentary from Sarawak authorities but the auditor-general's report still stands.

Senior officials at the Sarawak Planning and Resource Management Ministry and the forestry department could not be reached over the phone for comment at press time.

Sarawak has 12.4 million hectares of forest within its 124,450 square kilometres of territory, of which 4.6 million ha are permanent reserves, 0.88 million ha are fully protected and 4.30 million are state government forests, with the remainder being used for settlements, towns and agriculture.

Earlier this year, the state government announced a target of six million hectares of permanent forest reserve and one million hectares as totally protected areas for national parks, wild life sanctuaries and natural forest reserves. This was described as "clear testimony of the State commitment at sustainable forest management."

The state also announced the establishment of Transboundary Conservation Areas with Indonesia and Brunei encompassing national parks and a wildlife sanctuary. Sarawak has also endorsed 33 forestry-related international treatises such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the ASEAN Agreement on Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

But Raymond Abin, the coordinator of the Sarawak Conservation Action Network— a coalition of environmental and indigenous rights groups in Sarawak—is not convinced.

Logging is big business in Sarawak: it is the world’s largest exporter of tropical hardwood. It does not help that timber concessions are granted to well-connected parties. Oil palm is another major source revenue.

"We don’t have to go far if you see what is happening to most of the rivers in Sarawak, they are all muddy. If you fly from one end to the other, you can see many areas where the forests are being logged," said Abin.

For all the Sarawak government’s efforts, the auditor-general’s report noted that 139,680 ha of permanent reserves were lost between 2003 and 2005, with another 18,322 ha depleted during the period 2006-2008. Between 1990 and 2008, close to a million hectares of permanent forest reserve had been lost, with only 4.6 million hectares remaining. The report noted the state government's announcement of its targeted six million ha of permanent reserve, but pointed out there was no indication when this target would become official.

Auditors found that "logging activity near rivers is one of the main factors for deterioration in turbidity, total suspended solids and dissolved oxygen levels" in the main rivers of Sarawak. "This not only pollutes water resources but requires huge costs to restore." Indeed, the Rejang River (Sibu, Sarikei and Kapit regions), Kemena River (Bintulu), Baram River (Miri), Limbang River (Limbang) and Trusan Lawas River (Limbang) have exceeded acceptable water pollution standards.

Abin added that the indigenous groups could see what is happening around. "You don't need to be an expert: the local people who have been living in the forest or depending on the water for their means of survival—their way of life/livelihood is being gradually destroyed by the logging."

Auditors noted large deposits at the mouth of the Seduan River and Igan River in Sibu "as large as a football field," which it said caused frequent floods in the Sibu area during heavy rains. According to flood records, Sibu recorded a flood level of 0.9 metres in 1997 rising to 1.5 m in 2007. In December 2008, Sibu experienced its worst floods since 1963. The Sibu division of Sarawak had lost over 350,000 ha in permanent forest reserves between 1990 and 2008, the auditors recorded.

They also cited press reports earlier this year that logging activities in Bakun exceeding 40,000 ha had led to severe pollution and deposits at the mouth of the Balui River.

The law requires an environmental impact assessment to be prepared for all licenses in logging areas exceeding 500 ha before logging can commence. But in a sample of 30 permits of areas exceeding 500 ha, the auditors were unable to verify that EIA reports had been prepared before work began. Neither could they find any EIA approvals relating to those permits.

Air surveillance revealed that logging in certain areas had been carried out on slopes exceeding the 45-degree slope threshold allowed and close to riverbanks.

The auditors warned that Sarawak’s rich biodiversity would be gradually destroyed as a result of logging activities. It called for full records on flora and fauna species so that restoration work could be properly undertaken for threatened species.

One of the problems is poor enforcement and insufficient forest rangers, which Awang Tengah said was an "old episode" as corrective and improvement action had been taken.

But Abin belied his claim, saying that fear of harassment deters people from lodging complaints. "They cannot deny that there are a lot of illegal logging activities going on. The problem lies with the authorities, the people who have the power, because of their lack of enforcement."

Sorce : http://ipsnews.net/

Big business leaves big forest footprints

Andrew Mitchell (Image: Global Canopy Programme)
Andrew Mitchell

Consumers around the globe are not aware that they are "eating" rainforests, says Andrew Mitchell. In this week's Green Room, he explains how many every-day purchases are driving the destruction of the vital tropical ecosystems.

When was the last time you had a "rainforest picnic"? Or even, perhaps, an "all-day Amazon breakfast"?

Next time you are in a supermarket picking up a chicken sandwich for lunch, or fancy tucking in to a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage and bacon before setting off for work, spare a thought for the Amazon.

A new report by Forest Footprint Disclosure reveals for the first time how global business is driving rainforests to destruction in order to provide things for you and me to eat.

But it does also reveal what companies are doing to try to lighten their forest footprint. Sadly, however, the answer is: not much, at least not yet.

Consumers "eat" rainforests each day - in the form of beef-burgers, bacon and beauty products - but without knowing it.

The delivery mechanism is a global supply chain with its feet in the forests and its hands in the till.

Because of growing demand for beef, soy and palm oil, which are in much of what we consume, as well as timber and biofuels, rainforests are worth more cut down than standing up.

Palm plantation (Image: GCP/Katherine Secoy)
Burning tropical forests drives global warming faster than the world's entire transport sector; there will be no solution to climate change without stopping deforestation

Supermarket sweep

Governments, which claim to own 70% of them, create prosperity for their nations through this process, but poor forest communities need their forests for energy and food.

The report shows that the EU is the largest importer of soy in the world, much of it coming from Brazil.

It also shows that after China, the EU is the biggest importer of palm oil in the world.

Soy provides cheap food to fatten our pigs and chickens, while palm oil is in everything from cakes and cookies, to that fine moisturiser you gently rubbed into your cheeks this morning.

I have become a bit of a bore in supermarkets, challenging my kids to hunt for soy lecithin or palm oil (often disguised as vegetable oil) on product labels. You should try it! The stuff is everywhere.

The gargantuan farms of Brazil's Mato Grosso State can boast 50 combines abreast at harvest time, marching across monoculture prairies where once the most diverse ecosystem on Earth stood, albeit in some cases many years ago.

Rainbow and tropical forest (Image: Forest Disclosure)

Further north, thousands of square miles of rainforest natural capital is going up in smoke each year, often illegally, to provide pastureland for just one cow per hectare to supply beef hungry Brazilians or more prosperous mouths in China and India.

Many of the hides from these cattle then go into the designer trainers, handbags or luxury car upholstery that wealthy markets have such an appetite for.

Few Europeans know that their fine steak au poivre or choice after dinner mints might have an added expense on the other side of the world that unknown to them, is altering life on Earth.

None of this would matter but for three things. Firstly, evolution is being changed forever. Most of us, sadly, can live with that.

Secondly, burning tropical forests drives global warming faster than the world's entire transport sector; there will be no solution to climate change without stopping deforestation.

Finally, losing forests may undermine food, energy and climate security. Yet saving them could, according to UN special adviser Pavan Sukhdev's forthcoming review on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), reduce environmental costs by $3-5 trillion per year.

Oh yes, let us not forget the 1.4bn people, many of them the world's poorest, who depend on these forests for their survival and who cannot afford to lose them, even if we can.

Full disclosure?

So what can be done? The first thing is to encourage business to mind its "forest footprint".

The impact global business has on deforestation will be a key factor in halting deforestation in the future. No amount of hand-wringing in the UN climate talks will alter action on the ground unless the drivers of global deforestation are also tackled.

Whilst poverty is possibly the largest of these drivers, so is the way in which business drives the conversion of cheap forest land to feed their global commodity supply chains - all the way to you and me.

Lorry carrying logs on dusty road (Image: GCP/Katherine Secoy)

This is why we launched the Forest Footprint Disclosure project last year: to invite companies to first recognise their impact on forests and then disclose what they were doing about it.

Such a request might be ignored by giant businesses if it were not for the fact that investment managers, with at least $3.5 trillion of assets, also wanted to know and backed our disclosure request with their names.

Why? Because it is their money that may be at risk if the companies do not clean up their act.

In 2009, Amigos da Terra's report Time to Pay the Bill, and Greenpeace's Slaughtering the Amazon highlighted the cattle industry as a driver of climate change responsible for the bulk of Brazil's greenhouse gases through deforestation and methane emissions from 180 million cows.

This resulted in the withdrawal of a $60m loan from the World Bank's International Finance Corporation to Bertin, Brazil's largest exporter of beef.

In June 2009, Brazil's major supermarkets - Pao de Acucar, Wal-mart, and Carrefour - all announced they would no longer accept beef from ranches involved in deforestation.

In July, sportswear manufacturer Nike said it would not accept leather in its products from Brazil if it came from deforested areas.

And in October, JBS Friboi, Bertin, Mafrig and Minerva - the largest players in Brazil's cattle industry - all agreed to similar action.

Daniel Azeredo, a Federal Public Prosecutor in Para State, has recently filed legal actions totalling $1bn against 22 ranches and 13 meat-packing plants for non-compliance with federal laws governing deforestation.

'Extraordinary time'

The effects are rippling all the way up the supply chain - well, to you and me again.

Consumers and businesses can play their part by demanding that their suppliers know where their "Forest Risk Commodities" come from. But will they?

Evidence from certification schemes shows that consumers care but not enough to get their wallets out.

Burning of Amazon rainforest (Greenpeace)

If business cannot secure a premium for the extra costs of producing the good stuff, why should they bother?

I believe, however, that we are at an extraordinary time in human history when all that could be about to change.

What all this is evidence of is a quickening step in a remarkable journey that will result in nothing less than the transformation of the 21st Century economy.

Curbing emissions from deforestation, which was the outsider in the UN negotiations just two years ago, has moved to become the front-runner. It is now widely recognised that forests offer the quickest, most cost-effective and largest means of curbing global emissions between now and 2030.

So, are we at a tipping point in history where this could actually happen?

Conservation will never out-compete commerce with a global population rising toward nine billion.

Feeding and fuelling our growing world is one of the greatest opportunities of the 21st century, but sending natural capital up in smoke and squandering ecosystems that support wealth creation in the process will, ultimately, be counterproductive.

Businesses that understand this will be the rising stars of the future. Our report provides some of the first insights into who the potential winners and losers may be, and which business are setting the pace today.

Investors will want to spot them.

Andrew Mitchell is Chairman of the Forest Footprint Disclosure project and Executive Director of the Global Canopy Programme

Source : http://news.bbc.co.uk

Biodiversity nears 'point of no return'

Hilary Benn (Image: Defra)
Hilary Benn

The decline in the world's biodiversity is approaching a point of no return, warns Hilary Benn. In this week's Green Room, the UK's environment secretary urges the international community to seize the chance to act before it is too late.

In 2002, the world's governments made a commitment to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

Although it is hard to measure how much biodiversity we have, we do know these targets have not been met.

Our ecological footprint - what we take out of the planet - is now 1.3 times the biological capacity of the Earth.

In the words of Professor Bob Watson, Defra's chief scientific adviser and former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are in danger of approaching "a point of no return".

So the action we take in the next couple of decades will determine whether the stable environment on which human civilisation has depended since the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago will continue.

To do this, we need to widen the nature of the debate about biodiversity. Flora and fauna matter for their own sake; they lift our spirits and nurture our souls.

But our ecosystems also sustain us and our economies - purifying our drinking water, producing our food and regulating our climate.

Climate change and biodiversity are inextricably linked. We ignore natural capital at our peril.

Burning trees in Brazil (Image: PA)
Much greater concerted effort is needed to stop the plunder of our ecosystems


The UK and Brazil are hosting a workshop in preparation for the next UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Representatives from more than 60 countries - from the Maldives to China - will attend the three-day event to discuss how we can ensure that the post-2010 targets stand a better chance of being met than those set in 2002.

Kihansi spray toad (Image: IUCN/Tim Herman)
The number of species facing extinction continues to grow

The majority of those attending are from developing countries, including those with the rarest and greatest biodiversity. They need to be listened to.

It is easy to have principles when you can afford then - economics and ecology are interdependent.

So when it comes to biodiversity, we desperately need to start restoring links between science and policy, between taking action and evaluating it and between economies and ecosystems.

The big challenge will be for the real benefits of biodiversity and the hard costs of its loss to be included in our economic systems and markets.

Perverse subsidies and the lack of value attached to the services provided by ecosystems have been factors contributing to their loss. What we cannot cost, we don't value - until it has gone.

Investing in the future

Much greater concerted effort is needed to stop the plunder of our ecosystems.

Stockbroker with his hand on his head (Image: AP)
The restoration of our ecosystems must be seen as a sensible and cost-effective investment in this planet's economic survival and growth

Overfishing has reduced blue fin tuna numbers to 18% of what they were in the mid-1970s.

The burning of Indonesia's peat lands and forests for palm oil plantations generates 1.8bn tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, and demand is predicted to double by 2020 compared to 2000.

More than seven million hectares are lost worldwide to deforestation every single year.

The restoration of our ecosystems must be seen as a sensible and cost-effective investment in this planet's economic survival and growth.

I am optimistic. Talking about the danger of climate change has brought with it opportunities to tackle the biodiversity crisis.

While the 2010 targets have not been met, more than 160 countries now have national biodiversity action plans.

Mechanisms now exist for research, monitoring and scientific assessment of biodiversity, although we now need an Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services to oversee progress in the same way the IPCC does for climate change.

One example of progress is the Brazilian Government's new target, which requires illegal deforestation to be cut by 80% by 2020.

Last year, deforestation rates in Brazil dropped by 45% against those of 2008, the largest fall since records began.

Other examples, closer to home, are the UK's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) - 89% are in a good or recovering condition.

Our ninth National Park, in the South Downs, was created last year and agri-environmental schemes are producing significant improvements in biodiversity.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and later this year - in Nagoya, Japan - we will have the chance to halt the decline of our planet's biodiversity.

It is up to us to seize it.

Hilary Benn is the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Source : http://news.bbc.co.uk

Economic growth cannot buy the planet more time

Andrew Simms
Andrew Simms

Global economic growth - in its current form - cannot continue if nations are serious about curbing climate change, says Andrew Simms. In this week's Green Room, he warns that the consumer society cannot "have its planet and eat it".

A hamster (Image: PA)
The world has "bears" and "bulls", but thankfully not "hamster markets"

From birth until it reaches sexual maturity at about six weeks, a hamster doubles its weight each week.

If, instead of levelling-off in maturity, it carried on growing - continuing to double its weight each week - we would be facing a nine-billion-tonne hamster on its first birthday.

If it kept eating at the same ratio of food to bodyweight, the hamster's daily intake would be greater than the total, annual amount of maize produced worldwide.

In nature, there is a reason why things do not grow indefinitely.

Yet the entire canon of mainstream contemporary economics seems to believe that economics exists independent of the laws of biology, chemistry and physics.

It assumes, without exception, that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is both desirable and possible.

'Limits to growth'

To suggest that growth might ultimately be bounded by physical constraints, of course, is not new on the very margins of economics or in other disciplines.

Market trader with his hands on his head (Image: AP)
We have less excuse than usual to blissfully ignore how our impressive looking growth economies hide a negative ecological cash flow

For example, a group of researchers in 1972 used an early computer model to compare available natural resources with rates of human consumption. Their "world model" was published as the famous Limits to Growth report.

Back then, much less data and processing power were available. As a result, for some it acted as a wake-up call, but many others mocked it and used the report to brand the wider environmental movement as alarmist.

In 2008, a physicist called Graham Turner decided to look again at the controversial report. He compared its original projections with 30 years' worth of subsequent observed trends.

Amazingly, given the available technology and data, he concluded that they "compared favourably". The authors of Limits to Growth had been broadly right all along.

We shouldn't be surprised. At what point, and on what basis, did consumer society ever truly believe that it could have its planet and eat it?

Jared Diamond's book Collapse tells the history of societies throughout history that fell by overshooting their environmental life support systems.

He charts how wealth too often comes at the expense of liquidating natural capital and how, in environmental terms, "an impressive-looking bank account may conceal a negative cash flow".

Now, standing in the shadow of the banking crisis, we have less excuse than usual to blissfully ignore how our impressive looking growth economies hide a negative ecological cash flow.

Take just one example. A new report from our team at Nef (the New Economics Foundation) looks in detail at the relationship between economic growth and the need to avert runaway climate change.

Based on the leading models for climate change and the global economy's use of fossil fuels, the report - called Growth Isn't Possible - comes to a seemingly inescapable and self-explanatory conclusion.

It asks whether global economic growth can be maintained, while keeping a good likelihood of limiting global temperature rise to 2C (3.6F) - the agreed political objective of the European Union, and widely considered the maximum rise to which humanity can adapt without serious difficulty.

'Ecological bankruptcy'

Some nations, of course, face difficulty at much lower rises, such as small island states.

None of the models studied, including the most optimistic variations of low-carbon energy and efficiency, could square the circle of endless global economic growth with climate safety.

shopper in supermarket
The link between rising GDP and higher life satisfaction broke down decades ago

Over the last decade, carbon intensity has not gone down, it has generally flat-lined and, in some years, even gone up.

Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University, UK, concluded in another study that: "Economic growth in [industrialised nations] cannot be reconciled with a 2, 3 or even 4C characterisation of dangerous climate change."

There is also a growing appreciation that it has not all to do with climate change.

The latest set of accounts for humanity's ecological footprint reveal that, conservatively, it takes the Earth nearly 18 months to produce the ecological services that humanity uses in one year.

The negative cash flow is getting worse.

In a unique study, published in the science journal Nature in September 2009, a group of 29 leading international scientists identified nine processes in the biosphere for which they considered it necessary to "define planetary boundaries".

Of the nine, three boundaries had already been transgressed: climate change, interference in the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss.

Assuming that humanity does not deliberately wish to destroy its own foundations, and with so much science and sophisticated monitoring available, why is this happening?

For all the promise of magic bullet technologies, continual growth drowns out energy and natural resource efficiency gains.

Even efficiency gains themselves do not necessarily reduce consumption. Counter-intuitively, greater energy efficiency tends to reduce costs and drive up overall consumption.

There is a growing awareness too that, at least where rich countries are concerned, the downside of growth comes with very little or no upside.

For most of these nations, the link between rising GDP and higher life satisfaction broke down decades ago.

Lord Adair Turner, chairman of both the UK Financial Services Authority and the UK Climate Change Committee, recently described the pursuit of endless rich country growth a "false god".

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said GDP growth was "proving to be an extremely harmful way of measuring economic progress".

The reason is that in economic commentary, growth is always assumed to be good. But you can also have "uneconomic growth", when it is jobless, socially divisive or environmentally destructive. A parallel in nature might be growth like that in cancer.

Burden of proof

Are alternative measures of success available? Yes, many. But politicians and the business press remain uncritically spellbound by the equation "all GDP growth is good".

Here is an irony: the hard science of climate change is subjected continually to the most extraordinary degree of critical scrutiny in the media.

Given their actual number, informed sceptics are given disproportionate airtime and column inches.

But where the "dismal science" of economics is concerned, the daily reporting of its central tenet - growth is good - passes unchallenged.

The much vaunted journalistic balance is abandoned. Why? Perhaps it is because this type of economics is not science at all, but doctrine. To question doctrine makes you a heretic, and heretics get excommunicated.

The time has come to question. Now, the burden of proof lies on those who promise endless growth to demonstrate how it will be possible.

In the meantime, the pressing task for everyone else is to work out how all of us on the planet can have good lives while living within its means.

Andrew Simms is policy director of the New Economics Foundation (Nef) and co-author with Dr Victoria Johnson of Growth Isn't Possible: Why We Need a New Economic Direction, published by Nef and Schumacher College

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Source : http://news.bbc.co.uk/

Time to think small on climate change

Sir David King (Image: University of Cambridge)
Sir David King

Copenhagen's failure to deliver a legally binding deal has created an opportunity for individuals to fill the void left by politicians, says Sir David King. In this week's Green Room, he explains how small-scale projects can move the world towards a low carbon future.

Copenhagen didn't get us the legally binding global carbon emission reduction agreement we so wanted.

To many it was a disappointment, a vindication of their fears that world leaders would fail to seize the moment and rise above national self-interest to secure an historic climate treaty.

But I see it more as an opportunity for others to step in and fill the leadership void left by politicians; a chance for businesses, local communities and individuals to drive forward the low carbon agenda despite the lack of international political consensus.

Over the past two years, the UK government has concentrated on agreeing and setting out the legislation for action; now it must focus on practical ways in which the UK can meet its targets, which are reducing carbon emissions by a third by the year 2020 and by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

So far, ministers have largely concentrated resources on large-scale infrastructure projects, such as the development of clean technology, investing millions in an attempt to unearth the key to a new energy era.

A new generation of nuclear power stations will also be important in helping the country make the transition to a low carbon economy.

While these are a vital component of any government's climate change strategy, they will not be sufficient on their own to meet stringent carbon reduction commitments.

To do this, it will be important to mobilise all parts of society, both business and one of the most powerful agents of change: communities.

Changing times

Many innovative companies are already changing the way they work, judging that if not now, legislation will eventually drive them to reduce carbon, so they might as well stay ahead of the game.

Aerial photo of houses (Image: PA)
While big global deals are being sought, it's local communities that are getting on with the task at hand

Others are being forced by regulations, such as the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme to cut emissions.

However, the truly exciting possibilities for transformative change lie within communities.

Small, locally-owned initiatives replicated by groups across countries and nations can deliver substantial emissions reductions. At the same time, they can drive the mass shift in attitude and behaviour that is needed to tackle climate change.

The key is to use incentives to engage people to become a part of both the economic and practical solutions that are needed.

Small scale, low-tech solutions like these already exist throughout the world, not least in developing countries that are often seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

CRERAL is a co-operative in south Brazil that supplies electricity via the grid to 6,300 mainly rural customers in the area.

To increase the capacity and improve the reliability of its supply, it has built two river-based, low-tech, low-cost mini-hydro plants (0.72 and 1.0 MW capacity) that produce about 5.5 GWh of electricity a year, or 25% of overall demand.

In northern Tanzania, the Mwanza Rural Housing Programme (MRHP) trains villagers to set up enterprises making high-quality bricks from local clay, fired with agricultural residues rather than wood.

Not only has this reduced deforestation, the bricks have been used in more than 100,000 homes in 70 villages, providing improved comfort and durability.

Bottoms up

The key to the success of these initiatives has been the buy-in of the local community, a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach.

Wind farm, Denmark (Image: BBC)
[In Denmark], community groups own half of its private wind farms

Too often in the UK, climate change initiatives seem to be foisted on local communities, dislocating the projects from the very people whose support is required.

Energy companies find it hard to get wind farms through the UK planning system, as they are often challenged by residents who feel aggrieved about their lack of control over projects that will affect but may not benefit them.

Denmark uses a very different model: community groups own half of its private wind farms and 85% of the nation's wind generation capacity is made up of small clusters of turbines rather than large developments.

Backed by a planning system sympathetic to turbine installation and the guarantee of a stable, premium price for energy sold back to the grid, people are encouraged to join forces to create their own renewable energy supply. Similar schemes have also sprung up in the Netherlands and Germany.

Last week, Nesta - the UK's national authority on innovation - announced the winners of its Big Green Challenge, a £1m prize fund to encourage community-led carbon emission reductions.

It developed the prize in 2007 because policymakers focused more on targeting consumers and industry and overlooked the role of communities in reducing carbon emissions.

Coal-fired power station (Image: PA)
Big schemes enjoy economies of scale, but small projects enjoy people power

The four community winners of the Big Green Challenge — The Green Valleys based in Brecon Beacons in Wales, Household Energy Service based in Ludlow, Shropshire, and Isle of Eigg in Scotland and a runner-up, Low Carbon West Oxford, managed to reduce carbon emissions by between 10-32%.

In one year alone, these initiatives have almost met the remaining 2020 CO2 reduction targets, and in the future their emission reductions are expected to treble.

Again, these projects worked because the local communities came up with them, and often benefited directly — a reduction in winter fuel bill costs, for example.

All are cost-effective and could be replicated across the nation and around the globe.

The lessons that can be learned are simple: set an objective, incentivise and empower people, offer support and resources, and practical, local climate change solutions will follow.

By supporting more grassroots initiatives, and by allowing innovation, ingenuity and local ownership to flourish as a complement to larger infrastructure projects, the UK government could go a long way to achieving its 2050 emissions reduction target — at a fraction of the cost.

While big global deals are being sought, it's local communities that are getting on with the task at hand.

Sir David King is the director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, and a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) visiting Fellow

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Source : http://news.bbc.co.uk/

Restoring natural capital in degraded landscapes

Mark Chandler
Mark Chandler

The interests of farmers are often perceived to be in conflict with those of both the ecosystems and the markets in which they operate, says Mark Chandler. In this week's Green Room, he argues that ongoing, directed efforts can create profitable, sustainable situations for everyone.

Fuelling the growing demand for food, fuel and fibre, 13 million hectares are converted annually for agricultural use, mostly from forests.

Together, crops and pasture make up more than any other land use - over 40% - and are projected to grow by another 15% over the next 50-100 years.

The conversion into agricultural lands is perhaps one of the greatest single impacts on the Earth. These impacts include the greenhouse gas emissions that make up a third of global emissions since 1950, the 70% of freshwater used for irrigation, and growing loss of biodiversity, among others.

The use of the planet's resources is no longer sustainable. A recent study by WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network revealed that humans now use in excess of 25% of the productive capacity of the biosphere and that two planet Earths will be needed to support our projected demand.

The scope and scale of agriculture and the projected growth in demand for food, biofuels and other commodities puts it on a crash course with identified pathways for environmental sustainability.

With a growing awareness of the value of the goods and services that nature provides, governments and institutions are looking for ways to both decrease per capita demand and increase the efficiency of current land use practices.

But how can agricultural landscapes produce more with less impact?

Drying coffee beans in Indonesia (AFP)
Rather than seeing the use and development of agricultural lands as the conversion of natural systems into human-dominated ones, there are increasing opportunities for win-win solutions

Coffee wake-up

While the interests of farmers are often seen to be at odds with others in the supply chain, a dialogue is taking place about ways to build on shared interests across the global supply chain. Creating dialogue across sectors that typically do not interact in this way has led to some interesting advances.

Critical to success is our ability to define how to pay for the costs of maintaining the goods and services, and who pays. Incentives are evolving, including certification standards such as Fair Trade and the newly developing payments for ecosystem services like those for water, or the trading of carbon.

Developing our understanding of the relationships and trade-offs among forests, soil, biodiversity, water, and food production among other key ecosystem components is driving a new paradigm for applied scientific research.

Bee pollinating

So are there interventions that can create win-win situations for both land owners and the regional community at large? Two examples from the world of sustainable coffee production follow.

Coffee is one of the top five traded global commodities. A hundred million people depend on it for their livelihoods and the evolving models provide insight into the opportunities and challenges for sustainable agriculture.

Pollinating insects help with the production of over 65% of the world's crops. Recent declines in native and managed bee colonies have created concern about food production.

An ongoing project by Earthwatch illustrates the connection of these pollinators to the landscape and how different stakeholders come together to identify potential solutions.

A recent research project by Valerie Peters from the University of Georgia in the US, using teams of Earthwatch volunteers, found that wild and domesticated bees enhanced both the yield and quality of coffee berries near Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Wild bees and other pollinators were in turn attracted by plants, other than coffee, which the farmers had grown around their fields. Recognising the value of these other management practices in boosting yields helps farmers understand the benefits of biodiversity in the landscape.

Citizen science

Dr John Banks of the University of Washington Tacoma in the US and Earthwatch are expanding on this work in the Tarrazu coffee region of Costa Rica.

Working with farmers, volunteers from organisations such as Starbucks Coffee Company and the accounting and advisory firm Ernst & Young LLP, are identifying the value of nearby forests in boosting bee populations and coffee production.

These volunteers and other citizen scientists are helping to collect and analyse field data as it relates to bee activity and coffee plant growth.

Barren salt plain (AFP)

These diverse teams of volunteers are also exploring the financial mechanisms that help recognise and reward the goods and services that farmers and forests provide to local and global communities.

Ernst & Young LLP volunteers in particular will assist the Costa Rican cooperative managers in their effort to improve their business practices and develop better pricing structures for sustainable coffee production.

While the increase in intensive agriculture and the use of fertilisers and pesticides has produced dramatic increases in yield, this has come at the cost of degraded habitats, particularly the soil.

New sustainable techniques are needed to mitigate the negative consequences of intensive agriculture. Rebuilding healthy, diverse soils requires great effort to yield not only nutritional, healthy food, but also to mitigate erosion, capture carbon, and act as a sponge to prevent flooding, among other benefits.

Providing farmers with ways to enhance their soils for these diverse benefits takes a multi-sectoral approach. By engaging local organisations and Starbucks employees, Earthwatch is finding that useful tools can be developed that benefit farmers.

In Costa Rica, like much of the world, there is a need to protect against practices that acidify the soils, and rebuild their organic matter and thus natural capital. The linking of research with both ends of the supply chain is enhancing the uptake of better soil conservation measures.

Rather than seeing the use and development of agricultural lands as the conversion of natural systems into human-dominated ones, there are increasing opportunities for win-win solutions. Rural farming communities are among the poorest on Earth, yet they are often open to change - and have much to lose otherwise.

Adoption by consumers, governments and businesses of financial mechanisms such as certification and payment for ecosystem services is needed to ensure that the cost burden by producers of enhancing the environment is adequately compensated.

Solutions to address this challenge are being drafted through unlikely collaborations - consumers, farmers, corporations and governments. Learning and trust across this global community is essential.

Mark Chandler is international director of research for the Earthwatch Institute; he spoke at the Earthwatch lecture "Farming and Sustainable Environments" on 17 March, available as a podcast

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Dr Chandler? Can these examples of "win-win" situations be scaled up to a whole world full of conflicting agricultural and environmental interests? Is there any hope in maintaining "natural capital" in the face of a rising population with exponentially higher needs?

In geology there are rules that help make sense of observations. For instance a rule of how past processes continue in future and a rule of superposition as to how sediments are laid down. I would submit that the same can be applied to the present question as to where and how mankind is likely to affect the planet or at least the biology on it which holds conditions suitable for life.. If lessons learned by research into how coffee can be grown better are to be ramped up or scaled up to affect the future of our planet it's in raising awareness that a better system is needed to drive industry.. All the small scale farmers of shade grown coffee beans in the world and those trying to do their bit to keep soils good don't stand a chance when huge deals are cut half way round the world affecting fossil fuel interests if resulting emissions raise temperatures above what is suitable for raising coffee beans. The impact of things in one part of the world can no longer be taken in isolation or out of context as to how it affects the planet as a whole. Without the support of good governance and the active participation of forward thinking people economies of scale often fail to bring good policies forward.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado, USA

No mention of the degradation of minerals. With modern farming the product/crop is always removed from the field. With the crop goes whatever trace elements are in the soil. To keep crops going we put back fertilizer, but this is not aimed at replacing all that has been taken by the crop but only sufficient (and at the lowest cost) to make the crop grow again. This years crop of wheat is fundamentally different to the crop from the same field 50 years ago. Add to this the genetic engineering / breeding to ensure the crop looks right and is 'fat' in this sense lots of carbohydrate. Its also increasingly the same as the crop from a field 100 miles away. In the case of wheat. We eat it in bread, our food animals eat it, we eat them. We are moving towards a monotonous unhealthy diet denuded of trace elements. But, the standardized crop suites the food seller. Their job is not to provide a healthy product but something people buy and makes money for them. Take out the trace elements and our thyroid doesn't work, other parts also start to fail, we head towards being malnourished with growing obesity and failing health while surrounded by food. In the case of salt, we have processed what was a super food with 80 and more vital minerals into just sodium chloride. Okay, its white, tastes like salt, is cheap, pours but is no longer food. So, not only must we look to maintaining the volume of food, but that it remains food in the real sense.
Simon Mallett, Lenham Kent

Intensive farming is a direct response to an intensive increasing population that demands food for all. A need that cannot be denied as a minimum human right. However intensive farming which is basically a commercially driven system where a few people make a lot of money and the rest either work for little or get pushed out of farming and into the cities where as history repeatedly shows they become the bottom of the pile. It is good to consider and action systems that maintain a more natural and long term sustainable arrangement to the production of food but this needs to be supported globally by voluntary and financially supported family planning to ensure in the long term a sustainable population. One without the other is never going to work adequatley in the long term.
Geno, Heathfield, East Sussex, UK

As the world's population increases and climate change forces land use patterns to change, pressures upon farmers to produce more food on limited agricultural land grows by the day. Productive and sustainable agriculture depends on healthy ecosystems - fertile soil, plentiful water and flourishing natural pollinators and pest controllers. Under the above mentioned article we should understand the intellectual challenges of ecological restoration, but also with how to implement it in the field. In my ecologists sensing we might need a new set of perspectives and tools to do this. How can environmental degradation be stopped? How can it be reversed? And how can the damage already done be repaired? I argue that a two-pronged approach is needed: reducing demand for ecosystem goods and services and better management of them, coupled with an increase in supply through environmental restoration. Restoring Natural Capital brings together economists and ecologists, theoreticians, practitioners, policy makers, and scientists from the developed and developing worlds to consider the costs and benefits of repairing ecosystem goods and services in natural and socioecological systems. It examines the business and practice of restoring natural capital, and seeks to establish common ground between economists and ecologists with respect to the restoration of degraded ecosystems and landscapes and the still broader task of restoring natural capital. Also we should considers conceptual and theoretical issues from both an economic and ecological perspective, examines specific strategies to foster the restoration of natural capital and offers a synthesis and a vision of the way forward.
Engr Salam, Kushtia,Bangladesh

It seems to me that food processing storage transport etc. can attract a host of tax concession rebates and subsidies all the way along the chain. However it is difficult to allow tax concessions on things like compost heaps although they can be allowed on various chemical fertilisers herbicides etc. organic food is generally more expensive but it could be that if the tax incentives were removed from the conventional system or similar concessions were allowed to organic producers then the costs may not be much different. I think we need to closely examine the current system of tax concessions rebates and subsidies right through the processing storage and transport industries involved in food supply and look at what is available to the organic sector.
raymond, magill s.a. australia

Source : http://news.bbc.co.uk/

Deforestation and forest degradation factors

by Jean-Paul Lanly


An accurate analysis of deforestation and forest degradation requires that clear distinctions be made between these two terms, between the factors and underlying causes of these processes and between direct (e.g. the different forms of agriculture) and indirect (e.g. the development of logging road infrastructure)factors. A very large number of deforestation studies, essentially in the tropics, were carried out in the last 40 years at all levels and were facilitated by remote sensing. However they seldom included an objective assessment of the respective share of the various direct deforestation factors. The situation is even less satisfactory regarding forest degradation due in particular to the imprecision and multiple, and often subjective, interpretations of the term and the gradation it implies. FAO forest assessments of 1980 to 2000 tried to determine the relative importance of direct deforestation factors at regional and global levels: horizontal expansion of the various forms of agriculture and animal husbandry taken together remains by far the most important direct factor, but the share of shifting cultivation as well as that of ranching and colonization programmes decreased during that period. Forest area changes in industrialized countries, generally positive, have been less the subject of study, contrary to what has been the case of forest degradation resulting from air pollution, fires, insects and diseases. In conclusion, stress is put on the need for every country to strengthen its capacity in all forest inventory disciplines in support of sound forest land use and management.



Causes and factors

It is important at the outset to carefully distinguish between the underlying causes of deforestation and forest degradation, about which there might be divergent views, and the actual factors, which could be part of the area of objective observation. For instance, in dealing with deforestation in developing tropical countries, the expansion, by means of clearing, of the different forms of subsistence agriculture, of cash cropping, or of ranching are all evident factors. The underlying causes are the triggering mechanisms for these factors. In the case of the first factor, we might say that the farmers' poverty obliges them to clear more land in order to enable them to buy the inputs that would allow them to produce more on less land, and that their poverty is itself engendered by their difficulty to sell what they produce, as a result of the insufficient farm price supports, due to the low priority given to the farming sector. We can go back a long way in this manner to find the underlying causes, with the increasing risk however of uncertainty, subjectivity and ideological posing. We will therefore limit ourselves to studying the factors.

Direct and indirect factors

The factors are either direct -in the case of deforestation in developing tropical countries, the replacement of a forest area by a field of coffee trees is due to cash cropping which is the direct and visible factor -, or indirect, as for example the opening of a road (public or for forest logging) in a forest zone, which, in addition to being a direct factor of relatively small significance (eliminating a strip of forest along the road) attracts farmers in search of land who will clear the forest for cultivation. With regard to the area cleared by these farmers, there is a direct factor - farming - as well as an indirect one - the colonization or forest logging programme. There is a question to be asked, as well as a precautionary measure to be taken in this regard:

  • Should one attribute deforestation to the direct factor, to the indirect factor, or to both? In our view, we must always consider the direct factor either as the only one or as one of the two factors, but under no circumstances can we consider the indirect factor as the only one;
  • If we attribute deforestation to both the direct and indirect factors, we must avoid a double accounting in our total deforestation estimate.

The indispensable distinction between deforestation and degradation

The confusion that reigns between the two notions of deforestation and forest degradation has all too often been kept alive, or unconsciously made. In order to avoid any ambiguity, we might like to recall a number of elements that should be kept in mind:

  • deforestation: this involves a decrease in the area covered by forest. However, it cannot be so defined without adding a reference to its use (or allocation). In point of fact, there exist certain forms of forest utilization - and priority objectives of forest management - that clear temporarily the forest cover while guaranteeing its maintenance. This is the case of clearcutting of areas where forest will regenerate itself or be regenerated, or of the final cut in an even-aged forest sylvicultural treatment once natural regeneration has been assured. In other words, there is no deforestation if there is a guarantee of continuity in maintaining the forest cover;
  • degradation: this does not involve a reduction of the forest area, but rather a quality decrease in its condition, this being related to one or a number of different forest ecosystem components (vegetation layer, fauna, soil, ...), to the interactions between these components, and more generally to its functioning. The estimation of degradation can be hampered by a number of difficulties that are notably caused by:
    • the different choices of the initial state of reference: "climax" or its numerous substitutes, the forest condition which corresponds to the silvicultural model that was adopted, ...;
    • the criteria (with their indicators) one favours: health and vitality, species diversity, the production capacity of market or non-market goods and services;
    • depending upon whether we limit ourselves to the present date, or whether we consider that the present state is only transitory and leads to a satisfactory, or even improved, later state.

The ambiguities of the term degradation, and the difficulties of estimating it, are additional reasons for clearly differentiating between deforestation and degradation.

The case of plantations

It has often been the practice, particularly with regard to the tropics, to record separately changes in the "natural" or "semi-natural" forest areas - whether positive (natural reforestation) or negative (deforestation), from those related to man made forests (plantations), given the generally very different nature of these two categories of stands. Moreover, it is important to differentiate clearly between:

  • plantations established on lands that were not classified as forest lands until now: this is afforestation and results in an increase in the total forest area; and
  • plantations established on lands that have been temporarily cleared and which replace the previous forest stands: this is reforestation and the total forest area has remained quantitatively unchanged.

Characterizing and estimating deforestation and forest degradation

Characterizing the phenomenon and identifying the factors involved

Characterizing deforestation at a given time and place involves as a rule determining with some certainty what the more or less long-term future of the deforested area will be. Can natural or artificial reforestation develop, or on the contrary, is the clearing or clearfelling the occasion or the first stage in the conversion of a forest area into one involving a non forest use? There is no deforestation if the clearfelling is done on an area that is meant to be maintained as a forest (as in the case of "temporarily unstocked" forests); deforestation on the other hand does exist - and this is actually the point of view of forest management - when the forest in question is cleared in order to be cultivated or abandoned for a long time, and if its regeneration cannot take place before several decades have passed.

In addition to the time factor, the size of the elementary land unit whose cover is qualified - which can vary from less than one hectare to as much as several hundreds of hectares - must be taken into account, or else the resolution of the remote sensing imagery used for classifying and mapping and/or estimating the areas of the different categories. One is often obliged to utilize the so-called "mosaic" categories made of a mixture of patches of different land cover categories. The estimated values of forest areas and the changes they undergo over time differ in particular according to the remote sensing tools and methods that are used, a fact that makes it difficult to compare estimates from one country to another or from one period to another.

We must also identify the deforestation factor: it is locally known, and its relative extent in relation to other factors can theoretically be estimated by aggregation at higher levels. The difficulty arises from the fact that it is not systematically recorded locally, and is generally inferred globally at the level of a country (or of each of its large divisions) from the prevailing socio-economic and land ownership conditions.

These two identifications - of the phenomenon and its factor - and the estimation of the areas involved, which are difficult enough with regard to deforestation, are even more so with regard to degradation.

Estimating deforestation

Continual progress has been made during the past fifty years with regard to identifying deforestation and estimating the amount of deforested areas, thanks in particular to progress in remote sensing technology. The early phase of unlimited fascination with satellite and radar remote sensing in the 1970s and 1980s has fortunately given way to a more lucid awareness of the limitations of these tools, although considerable damage had already been done during the intervening period, namely, in the adoption of classifications and results that proved to be unusable by managers (and could not be applied to adjacent areas) and the reduction, up to total neglect, in the acquisition of "groundtruth" data and in field inventories.

Identifying and estimating deforestation implies the knowledge, at the relevant level, of the land cover at two dates. There are still unfortunately too few continuous forest inventories at the national or lower levels and most of them are carried out in the industrialized countries. At the international level, the assessments (beginning with the global ones of FAO) are only of value insofar as they are based on a reliable and repeated "groundtruth", which requires capacity building in this field in developing countries.

Estimating degradation

The degradation estimates of wooded lands are only accurate as a general rule at the local level on limited areas. At higher levels such estimates, when they exist, are most imprecise. Whereas the different forms of remote sensing are very useful tools for estimating deforestation, they are far less so for assessing degradation which most often calls for observations on the ground.

The difficulty in estimating degradation also lies in the need to differentiate between its forms and their degrees of gravity. The deforestation variable is binary - 0 or 1 -, whereas the degradation variable cannot be, at the risk of oversimplification; there is no comparison for example between the impact of selective felling on a tropical high forest for timber harvesting, and that of permanent overexploitation (fuelwood, grazing) of Mediterranean forest formations that can result in true deforestation.

The factors of deforestation

The case of tropical and subtropical countries

The last three global forest assessments carried out by FAO with 1980, 1990 and 2000 respectively as reference years attempted to determine for each tropical country the areas occupied by the different types of forest cover, as well as forestation and deforestation.

The 1990 inventory introduced a number of interesting approaches for assessing changes in forest area but did not attempt to determine the respective share of the different deforestation factors. The 1980 inventory did this essentially with regard to shifting cultivation, and the 2000 inventory did this for the main factors.

The FAO 1980 inventory Annual deforestation in the tropical and subtropical world was estimated around 1980 at 11.3 million hectares (Mha), equivalent to 0.6% of the total forest area estimated at the time (1 935 Mha, 1 200 Mha of which were in high forests). Shifting cultivation was found to be the direct factor for 45% of deforestation; this proportion was nearly the same for high forests and for the open formations in the dry tropics but varied considerably according to the main regions, as the following table indicates.

Table 1. Proportion of deforestation attributed to shifting cultivation (with rotation) around 1980(in percentages)

Types of forest Regions

high forests

open forests

all forests

Tropical Africa




Tropical America




Tropical Asia




Furthermore, global estimates (limited only to high forests and based upon the 1980 FAO inventory data and other sources) have been made, resulting in the following approximate proportions by direct deforestation factor at the beginning of the 1980s:

      subsistence farming 63% }
      permanent agriculture 16% } 84.5%
      cattle ranching 6.5% }

    (over)exploitation for fuelwood 8% }

      (over)exploitation for timber 5.5%
      infrastructure (roads, cities, mines...) 1%

In the humid tropics the horizontal expansion of the different forms of agriculture (and animal husbandry) constitutes the most important direct overall factor, since it is responsible for nearly 85% of deforestation. These figures are compatible with that of 45% of deforestation in the humid tropics due to shifting cultivation estimated by the 1980 FAO inventory, inasmuch as subsistence agriculture includes not only shifting cultivation as such, i.e. with rotation, but all forms of shifting cultivation without rotation as well: subsistence farming opening the way to cattle ranching in tropical America, or moving to very poor soils not likely to be recolonized by forest vegetation for a considerably long time (steep slopes in the Andes, the Himalayas and other mountain areas, and "laterized" soils after cropping, such as West African "bowes" or "alang-alang" areas in Southeast Asia).

These estimates also show the relative importance of ranching as a direct deforestation factor as practised for the most part in tropical America, which constitutes a particularly unsustainable and wasteful form of land use.

Although very approximate, these estimates also convey the fact that overexploitation - either for fuelwood or timber - can result in long-lasting deforestation, with the tree cover being reduced at a lower percentage than the minimum one set in the forest definition. This is the case of fuelwood collection around large towns for the supply of energy for households and small industries, and that of timber logging in forests rich in commercial species (such as monospecific edaphic stands and Southeast Asian Dipterocarp forests).

The FAO 2000 inventory ("FRA 2000 ")

By interpreting a sample of high-resolution satellite images that were taken around the years 1988 and 1997 respectively and spread over the entire inter-tropical belt, FRA 2000 analysed the transfers between the large classes of land cover. The negative transfers (in the forestry sense) - i.e. involving one or more forms of deforestation - between these six classes correspond to the boxes appearing above the diagonal of the change matrix below.

Table 2. Deforestation transfers between land cover classes

2000 Classes
1990 Classes

closed forest

open forest

long fallow


short fallow

other land uses

closed forest






open forest






long fallow






fragmented forest






short fallow






other land uses






These transfers are grouped into four land use categories as follows:

    (1) "expansion of shifting cultivation into undisturbed forests";
    (2) "intensification of agriculture in shifting cultivation areas": areas "in which shifting cultivation had become Intense (where the fallow period decreased)" and areas "where a complete transition from shifting to permanent agriculture had occurred";
    (3) "direct conversion of forests to small-scale permanent agriculture" (conversion of small forest areas of less than 25 ha to agriculture);
    (4) "direct conversion of forest area to large-scale agriculture".

By adding together the deforestation transfer areas that make up each of these four categories, one arrives at the following distribution of deforested areas for the whole tropical world during the period from 1988 to 1997.

Table 3. Distribution of deforested areas by main tropical regions (1988-1997)






(1) to (4)

Tropical Africa






Tropical America






Tropical Asia






Tropical world






Shifting cultivation [classes (1) and (2), the latter corresponding in part to the conversion of shifting to permanent agriculture] was only responsible for a 20% maximum of deforestation in the period from 1990 to 2000, compared to the 45% it was found at the end of the 1970s.

During approximately the last 20 years of the past century, shifting cultivation has undoubtedly played a reduced role in tropical deforestation if only because the available forest areas are becoming rare. It would nevertheless be imprudent to come to a too hasty conclusion concerning the importance of this reduction for at least two reasons: the imprecise nature of the 45% proportion that had been estimated in the 1980 inventory, and the simplification introduced in the 2000 inventory by the "translating" of transfers between land cover classes into changes in land use [categories (1) and (4)].

There are two factors other than shifting cultivation that will have undoubtedly declined: ranching, as a result of the elimination of tax incentives for companies investing in this form of speculation in Brazil, and permanent agriculture linked to governmental colonization programmes that have been suspended or reduced in certain regions.

Temperate and subtemperate developing countries

Following the 1980 inventory of the forestresources of tropical and subtropical countries (published in 1982), between 1985 and 1995 and then again for the 2000 inventory, FAO analysed the situation and the evolution of forests in non-tropical developing countries without however attempting to determine the part played in deforestation by the different factors.

The Mediterranean countries (North Africa and the Near East) have been the subject of two studies, in 1987-88 and 1993-94 respectively. These studies indicated that the overall deforestation rate was greater than that of the tropical world (more than 1% as against 0.6%), which is all the more serious inasmuch as it affects countries in which the forest cover is already very reduced (an average 1% forest cover as against 40% for the tropical countries in 1980). In these countries, deforestation corresponds for the most part to the final stages of degradation resulting from overgrazing, compounded, in areas where oil products are too expensive for the majority of the population, by overexploitation for wood energy.

In the other non-tropical developing countries - southern Africa, the southern tip of the Americas, central Asia and China - the dominant factors in the clearing of natural forests are still the different forms of agriculture and animal husbandry.

Industrialized countries

In preparing the FRA 2000 inventory, the UNECC/FAO requested the industrialized countries to provide data with regard to the area changes of forests and other wooded lands, by comparing their national inventories for two different dates and adjusting the data for the two dates to the definition adopted for FRA 2000. But the countries involved were not asked to indicate what portion of the changes were due to the different deforestation factors.

In the great majority of industrialized countries, forests are expanding on lands abandoned by farming and animal husbandry. These changes generally occur more or less progressively through an intermediate stage of suffrutescent or shrubby wood formations that are classed in the vast category of "other wooded lands". The deforestation factors essentially include the development of residential units in the outlying areas around cities, as well as diverse infrastructures (particularly transportation and commercial areas).

Very stringent regulations - made necessary in the past by the negative economic and environmental effects of excessive clearing - combined with the growing need for nature of a largely urban population, have reduced this encroachment particularly in the European countries (excluding the Russian Federation). These countries, with a few rare exceptions including Albania, have seen an increase in their forest area, with their annual growth rate reaching or even exceeding 1% for those in the Mediterranean area. Forest lands have also been increasing in the other countries, with Russia being the only country to report a large reduction of its forest area (- 1.1 Mha per year), together with a considerable increase in "other wooded lands" (+ 1.6 Mha per year).


History has shown that human beings have most often considered the forest as a space that must be cleared in order to develop activities other than forestry (particularly farming), and used, eventually beyond its capacity to regenerate itself, as a wood and forage resource. It was only in the face of serious shortages in timber and wood energy, or the degradation of forest lands caused by deforestation or overexploitation that voluntary national policies aiming at the regeneration of forest lands were implemented in a generally authoritative manner. Following a more or less rapid phase of decline, the forest area of a country levels off and then increases by colonization of the anciently wooded areas, an evolution that is amplified by economic development, urbanization and the abandoning of the countryside. This general pattern, with its variations and breaks, unfolds over different periods depending upon the regions of the world. The industrialized and emerging countries are presently in a phase of forest restoration, unlike the developing world, which is generally in a deforestation phase.

Forest managers are aware that their margin of manoeuvre is limited; the occupation and utilization of forest lands are by their very nature essentially "residual" and most dependent on what happens in the other sectors of human activity. They must of course defend the forests and their sustainable management wherever the forestry stakes are high in terms of the well-being of local populations and national communities, while accepting the fact that the forests will disappear where clearing can be justified within the framework of sustainable development.

In all countries, the decisions to be taken with regard to the occupation of forest lands and the utilization and management of forests require a good knowledge of the situation and the changes involved at all times and at the appropriate levels. This presupposes the development of human resources and the strengthening of the units responsible for forest inventory in each country, as well as at the international level. This activity should be perceived as a whole with all of its disciplines, including the most modern and appealing, such as remote sensing and geographic information systems, as well as the more classical and frequently neglected ones of forest mensuration and taxonomy.


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FAO. 1995. Forest resources assessment 1990 - Non-tropical developing countries. Technical Report (FO: GPC/INT/474/FRA - FO: GCP/INT/475/NET). Rome. 152 pp.

FAO. 1996. Forest resources assessment 1990 - Survey of tropical cover and study of change processes. FAO Forestry Paper 130. Rome. 152 pp.

FAO. 2002. Evaluation of world forestry resources 2000. Main Report. FAO Study: Forests 140. Rome. 466 pp.

FAO. 2001. Global forest resources assessment 2000. Main Report. FAO Forestry Paper 140. Rome. 479 pp.

Lanly, J.P. 1982. Tropical forestry resources. FAO Study: Forests 30. Rome. 113 pp.

Marchand, H. 1986. North African forestry resources. Working document. Rome. 34 pp.

Marchand, H. 1987. Near Eastern forestry resources. Working Document. Rome. 31 pp.

Myers, N. 1983. Conversion rates in tropical moist forests. In: Ecosystems of the world Volume 14a "Tropical rainforest ecosystems - Structure and functions". Elsevier.

UNECE/FAO. 2000. Forest resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Main Report. ECE/TIM/SP/17. Geneva. 445 pp.

Source: http://www.fao.org/