Although it is true that the rate of deforestation in the region is slowing down, from 4.5 million hectares per year for the period 1990-2000, to 2.18 million hectares per year in 2010-2015, deforestation in the region is still highly significant in relation to global rate of deforestation. This fact reduces the possibility of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals in the region.
In order to reduce the rate of deforestation, countries in the region continue to make efforts for the promotion of sustainable forest management (15.7% of total forest are subjected to some sort of management program); the strengthening of legal forest protection (32.8% of the total forest area are is located under protected areas) and to increase the area under forest certification (1.8% of the total forest area is under forest certification).
In LAC, the per capita consumption of forests derived food products is around 9.4 kg per year, which is equivalent to 15.7 Kcal/capita/day. This consumption is concentrated in rural areas and in low-income populations. Therefore, deforestation is not only an environmental issue, but also it becomes a socioeconomic issue that affects vulnerable rural populations.
Summary of: Forests
The total forest cover in LAC spans 935.5 million hectares, which represents 46% of the region’s total land area. Despite this abundance, the region has not yet found a way to take advantage of this important resource in a sustainable manner. Although the rate of forest loss is slowing in the region, and has been cut by almost half in the last quarter century (it is currently equivalent to 0.23% per year), it is still high compared to the global annual rate of 0.13%. By contrast, the region’s limited planted forest area, which has increased from 1% to 2% over the same period, is low compared to the global value of 7%. This data aside, the important contribution of forests to sustainable development, as well as the preservation of environmental services, is partly evidenced by the actions that countries in the region have undertaken to promote the conservation and sustainable use of forests. One example is the expansion of the region’s protected forest area from 114.6 million hectares in 1990 to 305.4 million hectares in 2015, representing 32.8% of the total forest area. Additionally, around 18% of forests in the region have been specifically designated as areas for the protection and conservation of biodiversity, and it is estimated that around 147 million hectares of forest in LAC are under an official forest management plan.
Forests make it possible to diversify the income of rural populations, especially those that are most vulnerable. In many cases, however, trade in as well as use and exchange of wood and non-timber forest products, which constitute an important source of income for a large part of the rural population in some countries, are not reflected in national accounts and are categorized as “informal activities.” Estimated income from informal wood products (USD 8.98 billion), non-timber forest products (USD 3.64 billion) and environmental services (USD 164 million) corresponds to 26% of the gross value added of the forestry sector to the regional economy (USD 49 billion).
Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) also contribute to the nutrition and health of local populations. It is estimated that around 5.6 million tons of edible NTFPs are consumed annually, which corresponds to 15.7 kcal/person/day in LAC. With respect to health, about 28% of households in LAC use plant-based medicines on a daily basis, many of which come from forests. In LAC, wood energy constitutes 13% of the region’s energy matrix, and 16% of households use wood as a primary fuel for cooking. Fuelwood represents 7% of the total fossil fuels supply, which is about the same percentage as hydroelectric power, which accounts for 8% of the total. The region has 36% of global carbon stocks contained in 22% of the world’s forest area. At the regional level, it is estimated that 73.4 million people live in houses that use forest products as the main construction material, which corresponds to 12% of the total number of households. With respect to employment, the forestry sector employs 0.5% of the total workforce in the region.
Forests in LAC cover a little less than half of the region’s land area. The forests provide products and services that contribute to socioeconomic development and to the protection of the environment. They are essential to the lives of millions of people, mainly those who live in rural areas or in a state of poverty, since they provide food and other non-timber products, energy, medicine, and important ecosystem services, which constitute irreplaceable elements for the sustainability of their means of subsistence and livelihoods. Responsible and sustainable forest management, as well actions aimed at the sustainable development (preservation, restoration, protection and production) of natural resources in forest ecosystems, will be critical to the region’s achievement of the SDGs.