Nearly 19 per cent of Central Africa’s total area of about 536.6 million ha is used for agriculture, although, as Table 5 shows, there are variations between the countries (FAOSTAT 2005). Irrigated agriculture is limited due to high, reliable rainfall in the humid zone which is conducive to rain-fed agriculture. Only about 88 000 ha are irrigated (FAOSTAT 2005).

As shown in Table 5 São Tomé and Príncipe has the smallest land area, covering 96 000 ha, while total land cover in the DRC is nearly 234.5 million ha. The sub- region has extensive forest and woodland resources; about 240.33 million ha is forested (FAO 2005).

Table 5: Status of land in Central Africa
Country Total area (1 000 ha) Land area (1 000 ha) Agricultural area (1 000 ha) Agricultural as % of total area* Total forest area ('000 ha)
Cameroon 47 544 46 540 9 160 19.27 23 858
Central African Republic 62 298 62 298 5 149 8.27 22 907
Chad 128 400 125 920 48 630 37.87 12 692
Congo, Dem. Republic of the 234 486 226 705 22 800 9.72 135 207
Congo, Republic of the 34 200 34 150 10 547 30.84 22 060
Equatorial Guinea 2 805 2 805 334 11.91 1 752
Gabon 26 767 25 767 5 160 19.28 21 826
São Tomé and Príncipe 96 96 56 58.33 27
Total* 536 596 524 281 101 836 18.98 240 329
* aggregated data

Source: FAO 2005 and FAOSTAT 2005


In 2004, Central Africa led economic growth in Africa with 7.3 per cent. This was fuelled by high oil prices supported by higher oil production in all oil-producing countries of the sub-region except Gabon (ECA 2005). Chad and Equatorial Guinea recorded the fastest growth in the continent in 2004: although oil was the principal factor in Chad, cattle and cotton production also contributed to the impressive growth (ECA 2005).

Agriculture contributes significantly to the Gross Domestic Product of the sub-region, with Cameroon, Central African Republic and Chad registering 44, 55 and 39 per cent respectively during the year 2000 (WRI and others 2003). Agropastoralism is the main agricultural activity, while major crops in the sub-region include cassava, cocoa, coffee, cotton, groundnuts, maize, millet, palm oil, rubber and sorghum. In 2000, Cameroon was the main exporter of cereals and pulses, which accounted for US$141 million and US$860 000 respectively (WRI and others 2003). However, Central Africa is a net importer of food.Due to the vast resources available, there is a glaring opportunity for the countries to diversify agricultural production so that they fully achieve their potential to become net food exporters. The sub-region has made great strides in improving its cereal yields, with as much as 56 and 30 per cent improvement having been realized in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, respectively, since 1989 (WRI and others 2003).

Central Africa is also endowed with considerable oil reserves, particularly in Cameroon, Chad and São Tomé and Principe. São Tomé has untapped off-shore oil reserves estimated at 6 000 million barrels (Infoplease 2005). Cameroon is SSA’s sixth-largest oil producer, with reserves estimated at 400 million barrels, while Chad has 900 million barrels (Energy Information Administration 2005a).


Land degradation, which includes erosion and soil compaction, is the main threat to the sustainable use of land resources. The main causes of land degradation are vegetation removal through commercial logging and tree cutting to provide domestic fuel, as well as clearance of forests for commercial or subsistence cultivation. During the period 1990-2000, the sub- region experienced extensive forest loss, ranging from 0.1 per cent in the Republic of Congo to 0.9 per cent in Cameroon (WRI and others 2003). Its soils are exposed to salinization, through inundation and saltwater intrusionto in irrigated land (WRI 2001).

Declining productivity and soil structure in the Sahelian zones of Chad and Cameroon are exacerbated by unpredictable rainfall and drought, resulting in extreme degradation and desertification. Chad is highly vulnerable to desertification, with 58 per cent of the area already classified as desert, and 30 per cent classified as extremely vulnerable (Reich and others 2001).

Armed conflict is also a threat to the sustainable management and use of land resources. The sub-region has experienced considerable conflict over the past two decades, displacing people and causing land degradation through deforestation.

As part of efforts to address the various threats to the land resources, a number of institutions and policies are in place, and they include the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC); the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC); and the African Timber Organization (ATO). The primary aim of these organizations is to promote economic cooperation and sound environmental management in the sub-region.

Central Africa is challenged to improve food production and cut down on food imports. A comprehensive, integrated approach to improving food security and land quality is an environmental and developmental priority.

Land tenure and access to land resources are two important factors influencing land and natural resources management. An improvement in tenure arrangements has a direct effect on people’s security and on their investment in land resources management. In particular, there is a need to harmonize customary and statutory laws in order to avoid conflicting situations that can lead to disputes over access to land resources.