Deforestation in Tropical Asia


FAO Deforestation Rate Tables
Threats to Asian Rainforests
FAO Deforestation Rate Tables
Graph Comparing Deforestation Rates Among Asian Countries
Outlook for Asian Forests
Additional Tables and Rainforests
Individual Country Reports

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The Asian region makes up about one-quarter of earth's land area, but holds almost 60% of the world's population. Tremendous population pressures throughout the region have contributed to the region's substantial forest loss. Additionally, many Asian-countries have entered a period of sustained spectacular economic growth in the past few years, resulting in the increased consumption of forest resources. FAO puts the annual forest loss at 9.6 million acres (3.9 million hectares) per year in tropical Asia from 1980-1990 (1.2% annually). The deforestation rate (1.1%) since (1990-1995) is slightly lower as a result of declining forest cover and increasingly ecological interest of peoples and governments.

Tropical Deforestation in Asia, 1990-2000

[Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.: The State of the World's Forests 2003]

2007 update

Total Land AreaTotal ForestForest % of land areaForest ChangeAnnual rate of change
Country(‘000 ha)(‘000 ha)% of land(‘000 ha)(%)
Brunei Darussalam52744283.9-1-0.2
Lao People's Dem. Rep.23,0801256154.4-53-0.4
Sri Lanka6,4631,94030.0-35-1.6
Viet Nam32,5509,81930.2520.5

[Click to enlarge]


In this region, clearing for agriculture fueled by the food demand of the large population, has played a large part in forest clearing in the region. The poverty of some countries (in 1997 South Asia was considered the world's poorest region) means there is a large peasant class dependent on forests for food and wood supplies.

Of commercial activities, logging takes a dominant role in forest loss, followed distantly by mining and hydroelectric projects. Commercial logging in this region has been more widespread and intensive than other regions and poor harvesting techniques have lead to severe ecological degradation. Before World War I and during the early postwar years most tropical timber entering the world market came from countries bordering the Atlantic. Foreign demand for Asian rainforest timbers was limited to certain specialty species and timber consumption was mostly domestic in nature. Since the 1950s, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea have exported large amounts of timber to Japan for its postwar reconstruction and economic boom. Initially most logging occurred in Peninsular Malaysia and the Philippines, but in the 1970s Indonesia became the timber king when it began granting concessions to multinational corporations. The market share of nonconiferous tropical timber exports of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei increased from 17% in 1965 to 30% in 1973 to over 70% in the 1980s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s with falling timber stocks and log prices, many traditional log exporters placed moratoria on log exports and began to restrict timber harvesting. Today timber from new markets (Laos, Cambodia, New Guinea) are taking over for the Philippines and Malaysia.

Several countries in Asia (Indonesia) have extensive mineral endowments on their rainforest lands, the exploitation of which are generally detrimental to the environment.

A few governments, most notably Indonesia, have promoted the settlement of outer area to relieve some of the population pressures of major cities and islands. The colonists arrive on outer islands and proceed to cut forests for agricultural sites, fuelwood, and grazing lands. These myopic resettlement policies have already had serious ecological consequences and threaten the future economic vitality of the region.

Today much of Asia's remaining forest is degraded making it more susceptible to drying out during dry spells. The El Niño conditions of 1997-98 facilitated the spread of land-clearing fires set by plantations owners and subsistence farmers. These fires rapidly spread into massive conflagrations that burned expansive tracts of bush and rainforest in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sulawesi, New Guinea, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. Health advocates warn that the regional health affects may last for years.


There is hope for the rainforests of the Asian realm. Many governments and middle class citizens are increasingly environmentally conscious and recognizing the importance of conserving their forests, and many are showing interest in reforming their environmental policies. Governments and local conservation organizations are looking towards news ways to promote sustainable use of rainforests in a way that benefits impoverished peasants, conserves biodiversity and forest resources, and helps to sustain the region's current economic growth. Community-based forest management is on the increase as is eco-tourism, which in many areas is over-developed and devastating to the local environment.

The Asian realm has the most plantations of any tropical region, with over 80% of tropical plantations. Though many of these have been planted on forest lands specifically cleared for the purpose, more plantations are being planted on previously degraded lands. Plantations are effective in that they both provide the product they are designated for, but also are used as a source of wood for peasant farmers after harvesting.

One of the biggest concerns facing the Asian region in the new few years, is what will become of countries that still have abundant forest reserves. These tend to be poorer countries, yet to reach the economic development of the others in the region. Conservationists fear that these countries will use their forest resources as a stepping stone towards development.

The Asian economic slowdown produced some good news, from a conservation standpoint: the higher prices of imports like equipment necessary for logging and mining meant that many firms had to suspend operations. Higher production costs, coupled with lower demand from a drop in construction, meant that less timber was taken from Southeast Asian forests than anticipated. In addition, in order to reduce spending, the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia had to reduce subsidies for and shelf some development projects that would have resulted in more deforestation.

Detailed population statistics
Types of forest in Asia
Additional Info on Asian Forests
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