25. Proportion of land area covered by forest



Proportion of land area covered by forest is forest areas as a share of total land area, where land area is the total surface area of the country less the area covered by inland waters, like major rivers and lakes. As defined in the Food and Agricultural Organization’s (FAO) Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, forest includes both natural forests and forest plantations. It refers to land with an existing or expected tree canopy of more than 10 percent and an area of more than 0.5 hectare where the trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 meters. Forests are identified both by the presence of trees and the absence of other land uses. Land from which forest has been cleared but that will be reforested in the foreseeable future is included. Excluded are stands of trees established primarily for agricultural production, such as fruit tree plantations.


Goal/target addressed

Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability.

Target 9. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.



The indicator provides a measure of the relative importance of a forest in a country. Changes in forest area reflect the demand for land for other competitive uses.


Forests provide a number of functions that are vital for humanity, including the provision of goods (timber and non-timber products) and services such as protection against flooding, habitat for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, watershed protection and soil conservation. Large areas of the world’s forests have been converted to other uses or severely degraded. While substantial areas of productive forest remain, there is now widespread recognition that the resource is not infinite and that its wise and sustainable use is needed for humanity’s survival.


Method of computation

The proportion of forest in the total land area is calculated from information provided by countries or from satellite images or other remote sensing information analysis. Changes in the proportion should be computed to identify trends.


Data collection and source

FAO global forest resources assessments, regional forest resources assessments, special studies and surveys, national forest inventories and satellite images.



State of the World’s Forests, annual, Food and Agricultural Organization (faostat.fao.org).

Food and Agriculture Organization, faostat.fao.org.

Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, Food and Agricultural Organization (www.fao.org/forestry/fo/fra).

Forest Resources of Europe, CIS, North America, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, 2000, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (www.unece.org/trade/timber/fra).

United Nations Environment Programme, www.unep.org.

World Development Indicators, annual, World Bank (www.worldbank.org/data).


Periodicity of measurement

FAO global forest resources assessments are carried out every 5–10 years, incorporating national forest resources variables, which are measured in the national forest inventory process at different intervals (often 5–10 years).


Gender issues

Men and women use forest products in different ways. Women typically gather forest products for fuel, fencing, food for the family, fodder for livestock, medicine and raw materials for income-generating activities. Women are also often the chief sources of information on the use and management of trees and other forest plants. Men, on the other hand, tend to use non-wood forest products, but also more often cut wood to sell or use for building materials. Women’s access to forest products may not be ensured—even where women have ownership rights to land.


Disaggregation issues

FAO provides a breakdown of forest cover between natural forest and plantation for developing countries only.


International data comparisons

Although the FAO forestry-related definitions are clear and applied at the international level, countries have historically used their own definitions in conducting national forest inventories and assessments. Considerable efforts have been made to adjust data based on national definitions to comparable international ones, and FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment documents these adjustments.


State of the World’s Forests, annual, Food and Agricultural Organization (faostat.fao.org).

Food and Agriculture Organization, faostat.fao.org.

Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000, Food and Agricultural Organization (www.fao.org/forestry/fo/fra).

World Development Indicators, annual, World Bank (www.worldbank.org/data).


Comments and limitations

National forest inventories and forest surveys are irregular in some countries and may be significantly out of date. Because of climatic and geographic differences, forest areas vary in importance among countries, so changes in area covered by forests should be documented as well as area covered by forests. Longer time series may be difficult to compare directly without analysis of differences in definitions, methods and underlying data.


The proportion of total forest cover (including both natural forest and plantation) may underestimate the rate at which natural forest is disappearing in some countries.


It is also recommended that immediate users or beneficiaries of wooded land be identified.



Ministries of environment.

Food and Agricultural Organization.