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Mapping Tree Plantations with Multispectral Imagery: Preliminary Results for Seven Tropical Countries

Tree plantations continue to expand worldwide to meet demand for timber, wood fiber, fruits, and vegetable oils such as palm oil. Many countries report national statistics on the area of land in plantations, but the extent and locations of these plantations are often not documented. This study advances these efforts by mapping the location and extent of tree plantations in 2013 and 2014 in seven tropical countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Peru, Colombia, Liberia) through visual interpretation of moderate- and high-resolution satellite imagery and other ancillary spatial information. More than 45 million hectares of land in plantation systems were identified in these countries. Plantations varied in size (from less than 1 hectare to 145,000 hectares) and by type (large industrial to small and medium mosaics). Interact with the data on Global Forest Watch here.

Executive Summary

Tree plantations continue to expand worldwide to meet demand for timber, wood fiber, fruits, and vegetable oils such as palm oil. Many countries report national statistics on the area of land in plantations, but the extent and locations of these plantations are often not documented. New corporate commitments to eliminate deforestation from agricultural supply chains have led to increased demand for detailed spatial information on plantation dynamics. Recent advances in global land-cover mapping using Earth observation satellites offer a promising tool for mapping plantations. Several earlier efforts to use satellite imagery have yielded promising results. This study advances these efforts by mapping the location and extent of tree plantations in 2013 and 2014 in seven tropical countries (Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Peru, Colombia, Liberia) through visual interpretation of moderate- and high-resolution satellite imagery and other ancillary spatial information. More than 45 million hectares of land in plantation systems were identified in these countries. Plantations varied in size (from less than 1 hectare to 145,000 hectares) and by type (large industrial to small and medium mosaics). Plantations mapped in Indonesia (24.3 million hectares) and Malaysia (10 million hectares) together constituted approximately 75 percent of the total mapped area. Indonesia with 12.8 percent and Malaysia with 30.2 percent also had the highest percentage of total land area in plantations. Finally, the percentage of total tree cover loss in 2013–14 within plantation boundaries was 44 percent in Indonesia and 65 percent in Malaysia. The plantation maps generated are important inputs to refine post-2014 estimates of tropical deforestation rates by differentiating between tree cover losses occurring within natural forests versus loss associated with plantation harvests.

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