EACH year, forests covering an area the size of Portugal are converted to other uses, mainly agriculture. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in its Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000—Main Report, estimates that during the 1990s, the world lost 95 million hectares of forests—an area larger than Venezuela—with most of the losses occurring in the tropics. This figure comprises a loss of 161 million hectares of natural forests to deforestation, offset by 15 million hectares of afforestation, 36 million hectares of natural expansion of forests, and 15 million hectares of reforestation. Most losses were due to large-scale conversions (see Chart 1).
These losses are significant because forests provide a complex array of vital ecological, social, and economic goods and services. About 25 percent of the world’s people depend to some extent on forest resources for their livelihood, and about 500 million people living in or near dense forest—most of them extremely poor—depend crucially on it for their subsistence or livelihood. The International Labor Organization estimates that forestry and forest product industries provide the full-time equivalent of 47 million jobs worldwide.