Ninety-one ecosystem types are found in continental Ecuador, covering over 15.3 million hectares or 59.8% of the country [1]. Of these, forest ecosystems covered almost 12.8 million hectares in 2014, after the loss of 2.2 million hectares of forest between 1990 and 2014. Ecuador has maintained the highest deforestation rates in South America at the country level during the last 20 years (annual rates of 1.5% and 1.8% for the periods 1990–2000 and 2000–2010, respectively) [2].

Ecuador has three main forest types: 1) the Amazon rainforest that accounts for 62% of the national forests. 2) The Montane (sierra) forests that are on the western and eastern slopes, at lower and upper levels, and towards the Andean high peaks. Such forests comprise 21% of the forest in the country. 3) The tropical rainforest in the coastal plains of the Pacific region that represent 17% of the Ecuadorian forests [3]. The coastal area has been the most affected by deforestation [4].

The country has approximately 160,000 hectares of forest plantations, with an average tree establishment of 5,000 ha/year. Most of the plantations are in the Montane forests (Sierra); the plantation species show rapid growth such as, pine (Pinus radiata and Pinus patula), and eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus and Eucalyptus saligna). Besides, there are plantation in lowlands of teak (Tectona grandis L.f), balsa (Ochroma pyramidale), pachaco (Schizolobium parahybum) laurel (Cordia alliodora), and cedar (Cedrela odorata), among others in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Los Ríos, and Guayas in the coastal region [5], [6].

Deforestation of seasonal dry forests affected 27.04% of the original surface area remaining in 1990, with an annual deforestation rate of 1.12%, between 1990 and 2018 [7]. Moreover, a publication on deforestation of tropical forests in Ecuador reported that in just 26 years, an average of 39.4% of the tropical forests in Ecuador have been lost. The most affected area is the province of Esmeraldas, in the northwest of the country, where part of the biodiversity hotspot Andean Chocó is located [8]. This area has lost 24.27% of its forest and experts fear that the same could happen in the country's central Amazon. The provinces of Napo, Orellana and Pastaza represent 15.13% of the loss of tropical forest in the country [9].


Forests in Ecuador are mainly affected by land use changes due to agricultural expansion, pastures for livestock, urbanization, infrastructure, mining, and oil extraction [10]. At national level, the most important driver of deforestation is agriculture, but other relevant drivers differ between the Ecuadorian regions and ecosystems [8].


Key policies and governance approach

The main law on forests in Ecuador is the Forests and Conservation of Natural Areas and Wildlife Law published in 2004 [11]. This law establishes that the Ministry of Environment is the authority to delimit and manage the forest area and the natural and wildlife areas to 1) ensure its conservation and rational use, 2) coordinate scientific research, 3) promote and execute policies on forest conservation and development, and 4) elaborate and execute the plans, programs of reforestation and afforestation. Moreover, the Environmental Organic Code (2018) establishes that Ecuador is committed to the conservation of its forests, including associated biodiversity, and sustainable forest management [12].


Successes and remaining challenges

There are successful examples of the implementation of sustainable forest management in Ecuador. In May 2021, the Provincial Government of Pastaza started a REDD+ program to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. It is a five-year project based on sustainable and traditional agroecological practices. The project is part of the Governor’s Climate Forest (GCF) Task Force [13].

Another example is a REDD+ Results Based Payments Project (PPR) launched in 2017. This project focuses on promoting sustainable production while supporting the restoration of deforested and degraded areas. Ecuador is among the first countries to receive REDD+ RBP financing. This was achieved thanks to the government's commitment to implement environmental actions and policies to conserve forests and promote the sustainable use of biodiversity [14].

Ecuador’s Results Based Payments Project will implement its national REDD+ Action Plan and its policy on Forests for Good Living to 1) contribute to forest restoration, 2) applicate measures of climate change forest-related mitigation; and 3) regularize lands within protected areas and protective forests in prioritized areas [14].

Besides the success on specific projects, Ecuador has challenges to decrease its deforestation rates and forest degradation. Agricultural expansion, mining and livestock activities need to be incorporated into the forest policies to jointly tackle the environmental challenges and their tradeoffs.


Initiatives and Development Plans

Ecuador received more than USD 100 million from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and the Governments of Germany and Norway to implement its REDD+ Action Plan working in partnership with UNDP’s Climate and Forests Programme [15].

Moreover, the country launched the Amazonian Integral Forest Conservation and Sustainable Production Programme (PROAmazonía), an initiative led by the Ministries of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE); and Agriculture and Livestock (MAG), which has the support of the UN Development Program (UNDP) and financing from the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

PROAmazonía focuses on territorial planning, the transition towards sustainable production, forest conservation and restoration, good forestry practices, and support for bio-enterprises. The program developed guides for climate change, conservation, and sustainable production for 28 Territorial Development and Planning Plans at the provincial, cantonal and parish levels in the Amazon. Besides, the project has supported the maintenance of more than 159,000 hectares of forest by ten Amazonian communities and more than 15,000 hectares in restoration in four provinces of the Amazon and the Dry Forest of Southern Ecuador [15].

Some elements of the program are: 1) put in place sustainable forest management in more than 90,000 hectares; and 2) the transition to sustainable and deforestation-free production systems in the coffee, cocoa, oil palm and sustainable livestock production chains in 34,090 hectares. In these plantations, the producers are committed to conserving the native forest on their farms and moving towards deforestation-free production with a view to serving specialized markets, which not only seek quality, but also the promotion of responsible production and consumption with the forests [15].


Goals and Ambitions

Ecuador designed and submitted its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2019 with the goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with emphasis on protecting forests. The NDC was declared state policy at the highest level. Some of the targets of Ecuador are: 1) Net reduction of at least 20% of GHG emissions by 2025 compared to the levels of forest emissions for the period 2000-2008. Based on Ecuador's resources and capacities, it commits to a 4 % reduction in GHG emissions for the AFOLU sector. An additional reduction of 16% is expected, conditional on international support. 2) Reforestation of 210,000 hectares of cleared land. 3) Maintenance of climate regulation services (carbon and water) associated biodiversity [15].

  • Ecuador is a country with opportunity for expanding REDD+ projects to reduce deforestation and degradation.
  • The forests’ biodiversity of Ecuador is the highest per km² , consequently sustainable ecotourism can provide an alternative livelihood for people that use agriculture as their main source of income in extremely rich biological areas. Besides, implementation of agroecological managements, certification of zero-deforestation and sustainable production of products such as bananas and cocoa can have a good impact on international markets.
  • Agricultural expansion, mining and livestock activities should be incorporated into the forest policies to jointly tackle the environmental challenges and their tradeoffs.

[1] MINISTERIO DEL AMBIENTE DE ECUADOR. 2016. Bosques para el Buen Vivir- Plan de Acción REDD+ Ecuador (2016-2025). Quito, Ecuador.

[2] FAO. State of The World’s Forests 2011. Roma; 2011.

[3] Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador (MAE), 2016. "Estrategia Nacional de Biodiversidad 2015-2030, 1st Edition, Quito-Ecuador.

[4] González-Jaramillo, V.; Fries, A.; Rollenbeck, R.; Paladines, J.; Oñate-Valdivieso, F.; Bendix, J. Assessment of deforestation during the last decades in Ecuador using NOAA-AVHRR satellite data. Erdkunde 2016, 70, 217–235.

[5] Aguirre, N. Gunter, S. Weber, M. & Stimm, B. 2006. Enriquecimiento de plantaciones de Pinus patula con especies nativas en el sur del Ecuador. Iyonia 10(1): 17-29.

[6] Calderón, M., Reyes, C. Ecuador: Revisión a las Principales Características del Recurso Forestal y de la Deforestación; Revista Científica y Tecnológica UPSE, 2015.

[7] Curatola, G., Obermeier, W., Gerique, A., López, M.; Lehnert, L. Thies, B. Bendix, J. 2015. Land Cover Change in the Andes of Southern Ecuador—Patterns and Drivers. Remote Sens. 7, 2509–2542.

[8] Rivas, C., Guerrero-Casado, J., and Navarro-Cerillo, R. 2021. Deforestation, and fragmentation trends of seasonal dry tropical forest in Ecuador: impact on conservation. For. Ecosyst. 8, 46.

[9] Kleemann, J., Zamora, C., Villacis-Chiluisa, A. B., Cuenca, P., Koo, H., Noh, J. et al. 2022. Deforestation in Continental Ecuador with a Focus on Protected Areas. Land, 11(2), 268.

[10] Torres, B., Fischer, R., Vargas J.C. y Günter S. (Eds) 2020. Deforestación en paisajes forestales tropicales del Ecuador: bases científicas para perspectivas políticas. Universidad Estatal Amazónica - Instituto Johann Heinrich von Thünen. Puyo, Ecuador. Serie de publicaciones misceláneas del INABIO - Nro. 15. 172 pp

[11] Ministerio del Ambiente-MAE (2012). Ley forestal y de conservación de áreas naturales y vida silvestre. Recuperado de

[12] Martinez-Moscoso, A. (2019). El nuevo marco jurídico en materia ambiental en Ecuador. Estudio sobre el Código Orgánico del Ambiente. Actualidad Jurídica Ambiental, n. 89, ISSN: 1989-5666 NIPO: 693-19-001-2.

[13] GCF Task Force. 2021.  Innovation Funding Initiatives. Pastaza, Ecuador. Governors Climate & Task Force (GFC). [Online]. Available: Retrieved October 2022.

[14] UN-REDD Programme. 2020. Ecuador launches REDD+RBP project to restore deforested and degraded areas. [Online]. Available: Retrieved October 2022.

[15] UNDP. 2022. How Ecuador is protecting the Amazon Forest. [Online]. Available: Retrieved October 2022.