Asia's Forest Area

An area with a high density of trees is considered a forest, although it may vary in size and type of vegetation. In the past, forests covered more than half of the total land area on earth. Present studies say forests now cover less than 10% of the Earth's surface (or less than 30% of the total land area). As an important part of our biosphere, forests function as habitats for organisms containing about 90% of the world's terrestrial biodiversity, besides being hydrologic flow modulators and soil conservers. The dominant paradigm in forest ecology is a focus on sustainable forest management which includes the ‘reforestation’, or the practice of natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have since been depleted. A sustainable forest management plan is crucial in mitigating the ill-effects of pollution, providing for natural habitats and attaining balanced ecosystems, mitigating global warming besides being a renewable storehouse for resources like timber. Till the 1990s, net forest area in Asia had declined considerably. The trend was bucked the following decade due to state-led reforestation activity in many countries with China assuming the lead. On the other end of the spectrum is Indonesia, where 82% of the land area was covered by lush forests more than 50 years back. Now less than half of the country is forested. The graph below shows the forest area in Asian countries.

Deforestation in Asia

Mid-2013. Uttarakhand, India. These few words will conjure up for posterity images of moving mountains, roaring rivers and countless deaths after massive cloudbursts in the Himalayas resulted in killing landslides that obliterated whatever came in its way including thousands of human lives. The understated fact remained human greed which caused large-scale deforestation in these areas, resulting in the inability of vegetation to absorb rainfall. Deforestation is a worldwide phenomenon and it is depriving millions of people of forest goods and services that are crucial to food security, economic well-being and environmental health. It is believed to have accelerated after 1852 and since then about half of the Earth's tropical forests - 8 million sq km out of the total 16 million sq km have disappeared. There are many reasons of which the overwhelming one is agriculture. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says subsistence farming is responsible for 48% of deforestation; commercial agriculture for 32%; logging is responsible for 14% of deforestation, while cutting trees for cooking fuel needs accounts for 5%. Today with only 0.2 hectares of forest per person, the Asia-Pacific region is, per capita, the least forested region in the world. Badly-affected Asian countries include India, Bangladesh, Philippines, China, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka. However good news is that at the aggregate level, forest area in the Asia-Pacific region will increase or stabilise largely on account of large scale reforestation in China and India. If gains in these countries are excluded, deforestation elsewhere remains high.

Reforestation in Asia

The Asian experience in reforestation or the practice of natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have since been depleted is yielding positive results. Area under forests in Asia has changed for the better from net forest loss in the 1990s, to net forest expansion in the following decade. China, as the graph shows, leads Asia in planting forests possibly due to its ban on logging in key river basins and an effort to plant trees at a rapid rate. The main thrusts of these reforms which have paid off really well are clarifying property rights, reducing taxes, liberalising business operations, and regulating the transfer of rights over forest land. Forest farmers have been greatly motivated to engage in forestry production since being granted use rights over forest land and disposal rights over forest. Countries like Japan, India, Thailand and Indonesia, despite having lost huge swaths of its lush forests, are planting more trees to save forests. One of the key focus geographical areas for increasing forest cover would definitely be South Asia. The region, with 23 percent of the world’s population, has only 2 percent of the world’s forests.