Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi
In recent years few environmental issues have attracted as much attention as global deforestation and its overall impact on earth's ecological well-being. According to several estimates forests cover about 10 percent of the Earth's surface and 20 percent of the continental surface area, excluding Antarctica and Greenland (Bequette 1997, 80; Abramovitz 1998, 16). About 55 percent of these forests are located in tropical and developing countries, with the remaining 45 percent in the developed world (Food and Agriculture Organi- zation [FAO] 1995). Seven countries have more than 60 percent of the world's forests (Abramovitz 1998, 16): Brazil, Canada, China, Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), Indonesia, Russia, and the United States of America (Table 1.1). Forests constitute a crucial part of the global ecosystem and economy. They provide the largest natural habitat for wildlife. Current esti- mates are that these forests “contain from 50 percent to 90 percent of the species of living organisms on the earth” (Schwartzman and Kingston 1997, 8). In the “Amazon river and its naturally flooded forests alone one third of the world's 9000 known fish species live” (Abramovitz 1998, 12). Forests absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, store CO2 in their systems, and thus regulate the supply and flow of fresh air. Forests also provide medicinal plants, help in flood control and to stop soil erosion, and furnish timber and wood for energy and fuel to about 1 billion people around the globe (Strada 1999, 314). Their contribution to local, national, and international economies is also quite significant. International trade in 150 nonwood forest products (NWFP) is worth $11.1 billion per year, while the trade in wood products like pulp, paper, and timber is about $142 billion a year (Abramovitz 1998, 10).