Deforestation and forest degradation factors

Jean-Paul Lanly1


An accurate analysis of deforestation and forest degradation requires that clear distinctions be made between these two terms, between the factors and underlying causes of these processes and between direct (e.g. the different forms of agriculture) and indirect (e.g. the development of logging road infrastructure)factors. A very large number of deforestation studies, essentially in the tropics, were carried out in the last 40 years at all levels and were facilitated by remote sensing. However they seldom included an objective assessment of the respective share of the various direct deforestation factors. The situation is even less satisfactory regarding forest degradation due in particular to the imprecision and multiple, and often subjective, interpretations of the term and the gradation it implies. FAO forest assessments of 1980 to 2000 tried to determine the relative importance of direct deforestation factors at regional and global levels: horizontal expansion of the various forms of agriculture and animal husbandry taken together remains by far the most important direct factor, but the share of shifting cultivation as well as that of ranching and colonization programmes decreased during that period. Forest area changes in industrialized countries, generally positive, have been less the subject of study, contrary to what has been the case of forest degradation resulting from air pollution, fires, insects and diseases. In conclusion, stress is put on the need for every country to strengthen its capacity in all forest inventory disciplines in support of sound forest land use and management.

1 Ingénieur Général honoraire du Génie Rural, des Eaux et des Forêts, 42 rue Albert Thomas, 75010 Paris, France.


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