Kenya and Uganda are among four countries that will take part in a study on tech-assisted tree restoration.
“Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has developed a module to assist countries in identifying areas that are potentially suitable for restoration. Use of the module will also be piloted in Kenya and Uganda, as well as Cambodia, Myanmar and the respective government institutions in 2020–2021,” said FAO in a new report titled The State of the World’s Forests 2020, released in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep). The report assesses the global forest resources to date using several tools such as satellite images.
FAO warns that deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates, contributing significantly to ongoing loss of biodiversity.
“In the cases where the damage has already been done, forest landscape restoration can begin to reverse the losses,” adding, “Already Kenya is on track to plant two billion trees by 2022.”
Kenya’s forest area increased from 39,071 square kilometres in 1997 to 44,496 square kilometres in 2016 growing at an average annual rate of 0.70 per cent. In 2016, Uganda had 19,418 square kilometres under forest from 41,336 square kilometres in 1997.
It blames the vice on agricultural expansion. Agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity. Large-scale commercial agriculture including primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soya bean and oil palm accounted for 40 per cent of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33 per cent.
In Africa, deforestation and forest degradation is also attributed to a significant proportion of poor urban people depending on fuelwood and charcoal to cook their food.
“Agricultural expansion continues to be one of the main drivers of deforestation, while the resilience of human food systems and their capacity to adapt to future change depends on that very biodiversity,” read the report, “Degradation and loss of forests, disrupting nature’s balance, have increased the risk and exposure of people to zoonotic diseases like the one we’re currently facing in the Covid-19,”warns FAO Director-General, Qu Dongyu, in a summary titled, Understanding and keeping track of the state of our world’s forests has never been so important.
However, the report notes that there are signs of hope, as the rate of forest loss is decreasing globally and solutions that balance conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity are getting accepted more easily.
“To turn the tide on deforestation and biodiversity loss, we urgently need to see these solutions being scaled up as well as instil transformational change in the way we produce and consume food. We also need to conserve and manage forests and trees within an integrated landscape approach and reverse the damage done through forest restoration efforts,” Mr Dongyu added.
The world’s forests cover 31 per cent of the global land area. But only approximately half the forest area is relatively intact and more than one-third is primary forest meaning it is of native species with no visible indications of human activity, according to FAO.
More than half of the world’s forests are found in only five countries: Russia, Brazil, Canada, the US and China, and two-thirds (66 per cent) of forests are found in 10 countries. Since 1990, it is estimated that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost through conversion to other land uses, although the rate of deforestation has decreased over the past three decades.
Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was estimated at 10 million hectares per year, down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s. The area of primary forest worldwide has decreased by over 80 million hectares since 1990. Africa had the highest net loss of forest area in 2010-2020, with a loss of 3.94 million hectares per year.
The FAO report titled “The State of the World’s Forests 2020”, released in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says there is great potential for forest restoration.
"A recent study estimated that there are some 1.7 billion to 1.8 billion hectares of potential forest land defined as land that could sustain more than 10 per cent tree cover in areas that were previously degraded, dominated by sparse vegetation, grasslands and degraded bare soils. This excludes existing forests and agricultural and urban land and would be equivalent to 0.9 billion hectares of continuous forest cover. This is more than 25 per cent of the current forested area globally."
The largest negative change in tree cover was seen in the tropical rainforest, which covers much of Central Africa, the Amazon Basin, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea; the largest positive change was found in the boreal tundra woodland in Canada and the Russian Federation.