In his statement, MP Anura Priyadharshana Yapa states that forest cover in Sri Lanka stands at 29.2%. To check this claim, FactCheck consulted the latest available statistics officially published by the Forest Department (FD). Unfortunately, the most recent official data was published in 2012 (Exhibit 1).
The definition of ‘forest cover’ includes all natural forests, including mangroves, within the protected area estate and in other state lands, riverine reservations and within large private land holdings such as temples, plantations. Accordingly, Sri Lanka’s forest cover, as reported in 2012, is 29.7%. This figure is close to what the MP claims. In terms of land extent, the 0.5% difference amounts to over 32,000 ha, which is approximately half the size of Colombo District.
However, latest official statistics are dated, and the forthcoming Volume 40 of Forestry Department’s journal publication is expected to contain updated statistics revising downwards the statistic on forest cover.
The MP’s claimed figure aligns closely with the latest available data from 2012, and updated statistics due to be published in 2021 are expected to show a small decline in forest cover that aligns even better with the number claimed by the MP. Therefore, we classify the MP’s statement as TRUE.
FactCheck will also review this factcheck when the updated statistics become available.
There is significant difference of opinion in the figure for forest cover among various stakeholders based on what types of lands are classified as “forest cover”. For example, The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has defined forest as “land with tree crown cover (or equivalent stocking level) of more than 10% and area of more than 0.5 hectare. The trees should be able to reach a minimum height of 5 m at maturity in situ. Forests are further subdivided into plantations and natural forests.” This definition allows the inclusion of plantation/commercial forests and rubber plantations. In this case, the forest cover increases to 31.4% of the total land area in Sri Lanka.
Exhibit 1: Extent of Forests by Type (2012)
- Edirisinhe, E. Ariyadasa, K. and Chandani, R., ‘Forest Cover Assessment in Sri Lanka’, The Sri Lanka Forester (The Ceylon Forester), Vol.34, ISSN 0258-624X (2012). pp 1-12.