Togo, Nigeria and Ghana have the biggest rates of deforestation out of 65 nations, according to a study described by its authors as the most comprehensive analysis of tropical forests.
Togo lost an average of 5.75 percent of its forests a year from 2005 through 2010, according to the study, published today by the wood products trade group, the International Tropical Timber Organization in Yokohama, Japan. Nigeria posted a 4 percent rate, and Ghana lost 2.19 percent of forests a year.
“In Togo, I don’t think any forest will be left,” Duncan Poore, a former professor at the University of Oxford and an author of the report, said in a telephone interview. “We must work with forest departments and governments and local communities to impress upon them that sustainable forest management is in all their best interests.”
The researchers said that the forests in the countries surveyed cover a total of 1.66 billion hectares, of which 761 million hectares constitutes the “permanent forest estate,” meaning it has some form of legal designation. That includes both jungles set aside for national parks, and land earmarked for use by the timber industry, which Poore said is worth about $20 billion a year.
The 420-page study updates research carried out in 2005 by the timber group, and Poore described it as a “benchmark” for tracking deforestation.
“It’s the most complete available study,” he said.
While the land may have legal designation, the laws aren’t always enforced, and just 53.3 million hectares -- about 3 percent of the total forest -- is managed “sustainably,” according to the study. Of that, 30.6 million hectares is set aside for forest industries, and 22.7 million hectares is protected.
“In 1986 it was less than a million hectares,” mostly in the Australian province of Queensland, Poore said. “That’s a considerable improvement, but there’s a long way still to go.”
Poore said that forest set aside for timber can still benefit wildlife while providing local communities with an income. He said the two best ways of protecting forests while generating income is through timber that’s certified as being sustainably farmed and through a program known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, which has been touted in United Nations climate negotiations as a way to pay communities to protect trees.
In Brazil, home to 31 percent of the forest area surveyed, the deforestation rate was 0.42 percent, and in the next most-forested nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia, the rates were 0.2 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.
Any deforestation rate over 1 percent could be described as “alarming,” Poore said. Still, “it’s less than it has been in the past and let’s hope it continues to get smaller.”