AFRICA ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK
Past, present and future perspectives

FORESTS

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Figure 2s.4: Threats to Africa’s forests

Only Western and Central Africa have abundant resources of closed canopy forests, although Madagascar and the wetter parts of Southern and Eastern Africa have equally important but smaller areas of forest. Savanna and woodlands are predominant in Africa's more arid countries. These ecosystems are very different from closed canopy forests but are also rich in diverse natural resources. Both forests and woodlands play vital roles in supporting national economies and local communities through harvesting of resources, provision of habitats and services derived from the ecosystem. Since the majority of these resources and services have not been quantified in monetary terms, they are often undervalued and threatened by overexploitation.

Africa has the fastest rate of deforestation in the world. Competing land uses (agriculture and human settlements mainly) are contributing to the decline of forest and woodland areas and the rising demand for fuelwood and charcoal is also a major cause of deforestation. In addition to ecological impacts, local communities are suffering from loss of livelihood and from loss of vital energy sources. Although policies and mechanisms for enhancing sustainable use of forests are in place in many countries and regional cooperative arrangements are well under way, implementation and enforcement of regulations are weak because economic forces are pressurizing governments and communities into unsustainable practices for short-term profits. Political commitment to protection of indigenous forests, sustainable harvesting practices and community ownership needs to be strengthened and development of alternative energy sources is a priority. Figure 2s.4 shows the major threats to Africa's forests.