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7.1 Proportion of land area covered by forest

Modified on 2012/11/05 11:19 by MDG Wiki Handbook Categorized as Goal 7


Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability Target 7A. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources


The proportion of land area covered by forest is the amount of forest area in the total land area.

This indicator is expressed as a percentage.

Forest area includes land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 metres and a canopy cover of more than 10 per cent. Areas under reforestation that have not yet reached but are expected to reach a tree height of 5 metres and canopy cover of 10 per cent are included, as are temporarily unstocked areas, resulting from human intervention or natural causes, which are expected to regenerate. Also included are: areas with bamboo and palms, provided that height and canopy cover criteria are met; forest roads, firebreaks and other small open areas; forest in national parks, nature reserves and other protected areas such as those of specific scientific, historical, cultural or spiritual interest; windbreaks, shelterbelts and corridors of trees with an area of more than 0.5 hectares and width of more than 20 metres; and plantations primarily used for forestry or protective purposes, such as rubber-wood plantations and cork oak stands.

Forest area excludes land that is predominantly under agricultural or urban land use, such as tree stands in agricultural production systems (e.g. fruit plantations and agroforestry systems), and trees in urban parks and gardens.

Land area is the total surface area of a country less the area covered by inland waters, like major rivers and lakes.

Method of computation
This indicator is calculated by dividing the total area of forest by total land area and multiplying by 100.


Forests fulfil a number of functions that are vital for humanity, including the provision of wood and non-wood forest products; and services such as habitat for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, coastal protection and soil and water conservation.

This indicator provides a measure of the relative extent of forest in a country. The availability of accurate data on a country's forest area is a key element for forest policy and planning within the context of sustainable development. Changes in forest area reflect the demand for land for other uses and may help identify unsustainable practices in the forestry and agricultural sectors.

Negative trends in the proportion of land covered by forest are a cause for concern due to the role played by forests in biodiversity conservation, climate change and provision of livelihoods. Positive trends indicate large reforestation efforts or the natural expansion of forest onto abandoned agricultural land.


Data on forest areas originate from national forest inventories or assessments and special studies. It is possible to produce estimates with information from ground surveys, cadastral surveys, remote sensing or a combination of these. National forest inventories are expensive and, as a result, they are carried out at infrequent intervals in many countries. On the other hand, easier access to remote sensing imagery has enabled recent assessments of forest and tree cover in some countries.


Data on forest area can be disaggregated by ownership, designated function or purpose and characteristics of the forest.


The indicator does not capture key characteristics or conditions of forest resources such as whether the forests are undisturbed primary forests, severely degraded forests or something in between. Nor does the indicator capture forest health and vitality, the actual volume of trees, the amount of carbon sequestered, tree diversity, forest values, or forest management status.

In addition, differences in methodologies and definitions over time make it difficult to compare the results of different assessments within a given country and to accurately estimate changes over time.


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. Men 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.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been collecting and analyzing data on forest area since 1946. This is done at intervals of 5–10 years as part of the Global Forest Resources Assessment.

Data are reported by countries using standardized formats, definitions and reporting years. The reporting format ensures that countries provide the full reference for original data sources as well as national definitions and terminology. The data are then aggregated and used for regional and global monitoring purposes. For countries and territories where no information is provided, data are prepared by FAO using existing information and literature searches.

Once received, country reports undergo rigorous review processes to ensure correct use of definitions and methodology as well as internal consistency. Comparisons are made with past assessments and other existing data sources. Regular contact between national correspondents and FAO staff, and regional/sub-regional review workshops form part of this review process. All country reports (including those prepared by FAO) are sent to the respective national heads of forestry for validation before finalization.




FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS (2010). Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010. Main report. Rome. Available from http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i1757e/i1757e.pdf.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS (2007). Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, Specification of National Reporting Tables for FRA 2010. Forest Resources Assessment Programme Working Paper 135. Rome. Available from http://www.fao.org/forestry/14241-0d7b74f45b0d2cfef31599cc17e4c28cd.pdf.

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