20 October 2004, San José - Less natural forest cover, but more protected areas and forest plantations, and an increased share of international trade in forest products are expected by 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is the conclusion of an outlook study to be published at the end of the year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The forecasts were presented for discussion to country representatives at the Latin American and Caribbean Forestry Commission this week in San José, Costa Rica.
"The challenges and opportunities of the expected changes call for greater participation of communities and local government in forest management, better property rights regulations, improved intraregional trade and development of systems for a better flow of information," said Mr Merilio Morell, an FAO forestry expert, at the meeting.
Country representatives at the meeting recognized the need for coordinated follow up actions and programs in response to the outlook forecasts.
"The future of forests in the region in the coming decades depends on how countries react to, and what kinds of actions they take in view of these expected changes," Morell said.
Natural forest cover is expected to continue decreasing between now and 2020, according to the study. It is expected to shrink from 964 million hectares in 2002 to 887 million hectares in 2020 or 47 percent of the total land area of the region.
Planted forests are forecast to increase from 12 million to over 16 million hectares. Protected areas are also likely to expand.
Already between 1950 and 2003, protected areas increased from 17.5 to 397 million hectares, reaching 19 percent of the region's total area and 23 percent of the world's protected areas. Between now and 2020, new protected areas are expected to be created in the region, including mega parks and biological corridors.
Sustainable forest management
With appropriate means it is possible to reverse the trend of deforestation.
"With proper mechanisms to finance sustainable forest management, it will be possible to reverse the deforestation trend and conserve forest ecosystems," Morell said. "Latin America and the Caribbean are at the forefront of implementing such innovative financial mechanisms."
Participating countries shared success stories on this topic at the meeting in San José.
Costa Rica reported how forest cover in the country increased from less than 30 percent to 47 percent in a little more than a decade thanks to its National Fund for Forest Financing. The Fund spends a 3.5 percent in tax charged for the use of fossil fuels to support land owners and local communities to maintain protected areas, plant trees and manage their natural resources.
Uruguay and Cuba also described how their policies helped slow down and reverse the deforestation rate.
"To guarantee protection and sustainable use of forests the multiple benefits and services provided by forests have to be valuated in monetary terms by those who benefit," Mr Morell said.
"Forests not only offer timber and non-wood forest products such as fruits and natural medicines, but also contribute to ecotourism, the conservation of watersheds and biodiversity, and to the mitigation of climate change. All this should be valuated to raise funds needed to pay for conservation of forests," he said.
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