Central America Has Highest Rate of Forest Loss in Region
FAO's State of the World’s Forests report says the average rate of loss of forest cover in Central America, which is made up of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala City, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, was 1.19 percent a year between 2000 and 2010, compared to a global rate of just 0.13 percent.
The region's forested area shrank from 21.9 million hectares in 2000 to 19.4 million hectares in 2010.
But the situation is not drastic everywhere. In the Caribbean, for example, forest area expanded by one million hectares from 1990 to 2010, "mainly through natural expansion of forest onto abandoned agricultural land," says the study presented in late January, at the start of 2011, the International Year of Forests.
The outlook for Central America remains bleak, however, despite some improvements.
"The largest percentage loss of forest area continued to take place in Central America, although the rate has fallen in this subregion since 2000," when it stood at 1.56 percent a year, the report adds.
The conversion of forest land due to urbanisation and agriculture is the main cause of deforestation in Central America, according to the study, which concludes that 90 percent of the wood removed in this region was for fuel wood.
Luis Romano with El Salvador's Humboldt Centre told IPS that deforestation of land to grow coffee on the outskirts of the main cities and the destruction of pine forests in the north and mangroves in the coastal regions are causing serious environmental damages.
Floods and "socio natural disasters" -- in which natural phenomena are aggravated by poverty and social exclusion -- are the consequence of erosion, sedimentation in rivers and other problems arising from deforestation, the expert said.
Cristofer López with Guatemala's Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation told IPS that the expansion of the agricultural frontier "is stealing space from forests."
He added, however, that "different methods are being implemented to avoid this situation, like carbon emission reduction projects, forest fire control efforts and improved stoves to avoid the cutting of firewood."
In November 2010, for example, the U.S.-based Global Carbon Group launched a 200,000-dollar project to purchase carbon credits from the municipality of San José in the northern Guatemalan department (province) of Petén, which in exchange will protect 11,000 hectares of forest.
The initiative is part of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD), the aim of which is to finance the protection of forests in developing countries with money raised from selling carbon stored in those trees to the developed world, to fight global warming.
Alejandro Argueta at the National Forests Institute, a government agency, told IPS that several programmes are being worked on to curtail the deforestation resulting from "a lack of a forestry culture," heavy dependence on fuel wood, and the expansion of the agricultural frontier.
The plans include the creation of an inter-institutional committee to curb illegal logging, incentive programmes to encourage sustainable forest production, and the REDD initiative.
"Annually, 73,148 hectares of forest are lost in the country," he told IPS. "At this rate, if we don't do anything, we won't have any forests left in about 55 years."
But great care must be put into the recuperation of forests. Carlos Salvatierra with the Savia School of Ecological Thought in Guatemala told IPS that it is very important to distinguish between forests and plantations.
"One thing is a forest that represents an integral system and another is monoculture plantations," whose growing cultivation in the region "represents many times the destruction of the forests themselves," the environmentalist said.
The only country in Central America to increase its forest area was Costa Rica, the FAO report says.
Karla Córdoba with the Neotropic Foundation in Costa Rica commented to IPS that her country has undertaken a range of initiatives to this end, like "reforestation of mangroves in the Golfo Dulce area on the southern coast.
"In 2010 we planted 105,000 seedlings through the Benin-mangrove project for community management and conservation of mangroves," she said.
Community participation has been key to the success of this South-South cooperation project between Costa Rica and the West African nation of Benin.
"We must remember that forests provide a broad range of environmental services, including oxygen, habitat for species, protection of water resources and scenic beauty," she said.
"It is thus important for conservation initiatives to transfer part of the benefits to the communities, for example, by promoting sustainable productive practices like rural community tourism and integrating populations as direct implementers of conservation," she said. (END)