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Nigeria has the world's highest deforestation rate of primary forests according to revised deforestation figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Between 2000 and 2005 the country lost 55.7 percent of its primary forests -- defined as forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities. Logging, subsistence agriculture, and the collection of fuelwood are cited as leading causes of forest clearing in the West African country.
FAO data originally showed Cambodia as having the highest deforestation rate from 2000-2005, but the organization revised its figures shortly after publication. The new figures say that the southeast Asian country has 322,000 hectares of primary forest, instead of the 122,000 initially listed. Therefore, Cambodia lost only 29% of its primary forests during the last five years. FAO gave no reason for the revision.
Overall, FAO concludes that net deforestation rates have fallen since the 1990-2000 period, but some 6 million hectares of the world's primary forests are still lost each year. Primary forests, also known as old-growth forests, are considered the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.
The FAO report shows that primary forests are being replaced by less biodiverse plantations and secondary forests. Due to a significant increase in plantation forests, forest cover has generally been expanding in North America, Europe and China while diminishing in the tropics. Industrial logging, conversion for agriculture (commercial and subsistence), fuelwood collection by rural poor, and forest fires -- often purposely set by people -- are responsible for the bulk of global deforestation today.
**Poor tropical countries suffer highest primary forest loss**
Analysis of the FAO report by mongabay.com, shows that developing countries in the tropics generally suffered the worst rates of forest loss between 2000 and 2005. Of the 10 countries with the highest deforestation rate during that period, all were considered "developing" and nine were tropical. Four of the top six were located in south or southeast Asia.
**Worst deforestation rate of primary forests, 2000-2005. All countries.**
1 Nigeria 55.7%
2 Viet Nam 54.5%
3 Cambodia 29.4%
4 Sri Lanka 15.2%
5 Malawi 14.9%
6 Indonesia 12.9%
7 North Korea 9.3%
8 Nepal 9.1%
9 Panama 6.7%
10 Guatemala 6.4%
Looking at total loss of forest area between 2000 and 2005, the picture is a bit different with the United States and Russia, both with vast expanses of forest, making the list. Brazil, home to the Amazon rain forest, lost the largest amount of forest over the past five years. Highest deforestation of natural forests, 2000-2005.
**Average annual rate of forest loss. All area figures are in hectares. All countries**
1 Brazil -3,466,000
2 Indonesia -1,447,800
3 Russian Federation -532,200
4 Mexico -395,000
5 Papua New Guinea -250,200
6 Peru -224,600
7 United States of America -215,200
8 Bolivia -135,200
9 Sudan -117,807
10 Nigeria -82,000
More analysis of the FAO report can be found at United States has 7th highest rate of primary forest loss.
Chatham House is assessing the scale and effectiveness of the response to illegal logging and the related trade around the world. Full details of this work, including analysis and data, will be available online soon.