Forests and Forest Peoples

Forests and Forest Peoples. Map by Jordan Engel.
Forests and Forest Peoples. Map by Jordan Engel.

Forests cover 12% of the planet and nearly all are inhabited. Many peoples who live in and have customary rights to their forests have developed ways of life and traditional knowledge that are attuned to their forest environments. Yet, forest policies commonly treat forests as empty lands controlled by the state and available for ‘development’ – colonization, logging, plantations, dams, mines, oil wells, gas pipelines and agribusiness.

How many people around the globe can be considered forest peoples and what is their geographical distribution? Global estimates of forest peoples range from 250 million to over 1 billion, depending on how they are defined. According to a recent study by Sophie Chao of the Forest Peoples Programme, this is the estimated breakdown by region:

East and Southeast Asia: 611,637,800
South Asia: 469,854,100
North, West, and Northwest Africa: 136,335,800
Southern Africa: 57,357,600
Central America: 19,172,960
Horn and East Africa: 17,405,700
Pacific Islands: 6,000,000
South America: 4,795,100
Central Africa: 1,543,900
Australia, New Zealand, Pacific: 260,000
North America and Arctic: 257,000
Middle East: 0



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