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Forests: Latin America and the Caribbean

Forest extent: Latin America and the Caribbean

The most heavily forested region, Latin America and the Caribbean lost nearly 47 million ha during 1990-2000, second only to Africa

Note: dark green represents closed forest, more than 40 per cent covered with trees more than 5 metres high; midgreen represents open (10-40 per cent coverage) and fragmented forest; light green represents other woodland, shrubland and bushland

Source: FAO 2001a

Forests have many important socio-economic functions in Latin American and Caribbean countries. These include supplying the wood industry with inputs for domestic consumption and export, providing local communities with essential non-wood forest products and providing forest-dwelling indigenous communities with opportunities to continue their traditional livelihoods. They also provide environmental goods and services, acting as natural shields against disasters, affording watershed protection, biodiversity preservation and prevention of soil erosion, and serving as a sink for carbon dioxide.

Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the most important forest regions, with nearly one-quarter of the world's forest cover (FAO 2001a).The region contains 834 million ha of tropical forest and 130 million ha of other forests, both temperate and dry, coastal and montane, covering 48 per cent of the total land area (FAO 2001a). Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela contain 56 per cent of the regional total (FAO 2001a). The region's forests contain more than 160 billion m3 of wood, onethird of the world total. Guatemala and Panama are among the world's highest in terms of standing volume per hectare (FAO 2001a).

The Amazon Basin contains the world's most extensive tropical rainforest. It includes at least 20 different rainforest types, and is considered to be the world's richest ecosystem in terms of biodiversity (FAO 2001a).

The rate of deforestation is one of highest in the world at an annual average of 0.48 per cent (varying from 1.2 per cent in Meso-America to 0.4 per cent in South America and a net gain of 0.3 per cent in the Caribbean). Of the 418 million ha of natural forest lost worldwide over the past 30 years, 190 million ha were in Latin America (FAO 2001a). Total forest area in the region was reduced by around 46.7 million ha between 1990 and 2000.