Africa is leading the way when it comes to deforestation with a net yearly loss of 2.8 million hectares of forests between 2010 and 2015, according to a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report.
Launching the report at the World Forestry Congress in Durban, South Africa on Monday, José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, said what was undoubtedly the most comprehensive forest review to date had conveyed both good and bad news.
While deforestation was continuing, the rate of net global deforestation had slowed by 50 per cent over the past 25 years, according to the report entitled: Global Forest Resources Assessment for 2015.
Although about 129 million hectares of forest an area equivalent to the size of South Africa had been lost since 1990, an increasing number of forest areas had come under protection.
There were also indications of improved forest management through legislation, as well as the measuring and monitoring of forest resources and a greater involvement by local communities in planning and developing policies.
The FAO study, which covers 234 countries, indicated that the net yearly rate of forest loss had slowed, from 0.18 per cent in the early 1990s, to 0.08 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
While forests made up 31.6 per cent of the world’s land areas in 1990, this had changed to 30.6 per cent by 2015. Today, the bulk, or 93 per cent, of the world’s forest area is natural.
This covers primary forest areas where human disturbances have been limited, as well as secondary forest areas that have degenerated naturally.
Planted forest currently accounts for 7 per cent of the world’s overall forest area, having increased by over 110 million hectares since 1990.
The study noted that planted forests were often established for production and, if managed well, could provide various forest goods and services and help reduce the pressure on natural forest.
Figures also needed to be considered in the context of an increase in global wood consumption and the continued widespread reliance on wood fuel, Mr. da Silva said.
Commenting, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, African Union (AU) Commission chairperson said deforestation needed to be viewed in the wider context of sustainable development.
Noting that it had been decided to develop a framework for forestry issues that would apply to the entire continent, she said it was important to ensure that productivity of existing agricultural land could be enhanced so that there was no need to cut down further trees to increase farm land.
Madam Dlamini-Zuma said the AU was working hard to “get more energy into Africa” to minimise reliance on wood.
When fast-tracking industrialisa-tion, she said Africa needed to leapfrog the mistakes of the past and use solar, geothermal, wind and hydroelectric technology so that development did not mean deforestation.
Madam Dlamini-Zuma said agriculture in Africa needed to be updated, mechanised and made more productive to reverse the current status quo where Africa imported 83 per cent of its food.
She stated that agriculture needed to be marketed as a business opportunity to young Africans with increased beneficiation presented as a wealth generator and job creator.
Higher yields would mean that existing land would be able to feed the rapidly growing population.