Africa is the only continent in the world where deforestation is accelerating, according to key findings of a five-year report released Thursday by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In South America, where some countries have been blamed for rampant forest exploitation, the rate of forest loss was halved over the last decade.
South America lost an average 2.6 million hectares annually over the last 10 years, compared with 5.2 million hectares of forest per year between 2000 and 2010.
Deforestation in Africa accelerated, from 3.4 to 3.9 million hectares annually over each period.
“This is indeed very bad news” for the African continent, said Anne Branthomme, a global forestry expert at FAO.
“One explanation is certainly population growth in the region. Much of the deforestation in the region is due to small-scale subsistence agriculture,” Branthomme told AFP.
Insufficient poverty reduction, combined with population growth, “is increasing the pressure on forests, which is very unfortunate since forests in Africa are also a very important source of food, firewood, wood energy,” she added.
At the global level, forest loss has continued to slow, though this positive trend has weakened over the past decade.
Global deforestation declined by an average 500,000 hectares annually in the last 10 years compared with a decade earlier. By comparison, the period between 2000 and 2010 saw an average annual decline of 2.6 million hectares from the previous decade.
Since 1990, the world has lost 178 million hectares of forest, an area equivalent to the size of Libya.
The world’s total forest area is just over 4 billion hectares, below a third of the world’s land area.