The net rate of forest loss in Africa is the second highest in the world, behind Latin America, often due to lax enforcement of laws, and the continent leads the globe in the frequency of forest fires, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported today. Globally, Africa lost more than 4 million hectares (ha) of forests per year between 2000 and 2005, FAO told the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission currently meeting in Maputo, Mozambique. This was mainly due to conversion of forest lands to agriculture. Forest cover went from 655.6 million ha to 635.4 million ha during this period.Forest fires are another major concern, the agency said. Africa leads the world in these, mainly due to the traditional practice of using fire for converting forest to agriculture or grassland. The frequency of fires is particularly high in northern Angola, the southern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern Sudan and the Central African Republic. Despite problems, Africa has made strides in terms of improving forest policy and programmes, according to FAO. More than half of African countries have established new forestry policies and laws over the past 15 years, and two-thirds now have an active national forestry management programme in place.But implementation and enforcement of these measures remains weak, mainly due to lack of financing and weak national institutions, the agency said.People in Africa depend on forests in a number of ways, and forest resources play an important role in both basic subsistence and poverty alleviation there. The African Forestry and Wildlife Commission gathers every two years at a meeting organized by FAO.