Forests and woodlands provided a wide range of goods-and- services that create opportunities for development and improving human well-being. Some goods, such as wood for fuel and construction, are quite evident while others, such as water sources, are less obvious. The environmental functions of forests and woodlands include protecting catchment, purifying water and regulating river flows, which in turn ensure the supply of water for hydropower generation. Forests and woodlands also help prevent soil erosion (from water and wind) and thus are critical for agriculture and food production. They supply timber, wood for energy, construction materials and NTFPs including food and medicines. Other services include provision of shade, habitat functions, grazing, cultural (sacred groves, shade, peace trees and plants, meeting places, boundaries and training areas) and aesthetic values. The overall value of these goods-and-services is immense: it has been suggested that if the value of carbon sequestration is added to the above values, the local value of forests could easily support flourishing local livelihoods, while allowing forest-adjacent communities to maintain their security.

Manufacturing and value-added activities

In Central and Western Africa, the forest sector contributes more than 60 per cent of GDP through export of timber products (FAO 2003b). Africa’s wood production (including roundwood and fuelwood), this increased from 340 million m³ in 1980 to 699 million m³ in 2000 (FAO 2003b). However, trade is characterized by unprocessed products, primarily roundwood and sawn planks. This means that the full potential value of forest resources is not captured. A huge opportunity, therefore, exists in investing in value-adding and processing of wood products. The main existing value-added products are paper, furniture and sawn logs produced essentially by the established private sector, and charcoal production and crafts by the informal sector.

Greater benefits can be realized in those countries with significant hardwood forests, particularly the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Congo, Gabon, and Cameroon, through more innovative institutional arrangements such as market-based price determination through tendering, improving tax collection through the privatization of tax revenue collection, or privatizing commercial functions (FAO 2005). A number of countries have now imposed restrictions on log exports to encourage domestic processing. Domestic processing, however, has to be supported by strict quality control if African processed wood products are to gain secure access to the international market. Additionally, products will require certification to show that they come from sustainably managed forests, given the growing environmental consciousness of global consumers.


In Eastern, Western and Southern Africa, more than 90 per cent of rural households depend on woodfuel, including fuelwood and charcoal, for their energy requirements. The sustainability of this high dependence is questionable and, increasingly, African countries are looking at the energy opportunities offered by other resources, including solar and wind energy (see Chapter 2: Atmosphere) and hydropower (see Chapter 4: Freshwater).

Woodfuel supports lucrative local trade. Trade in charcoal is a major source of income for many households. For example, in Zambia, the charcoal industry generated about US$30 million in 1998 alone, and in the same year about 60 000 Zambians directly depended on charcoal production for the bulk of their income (Kalumiana 2000).

As charcoal becomes an important tradable commodity, there is an opportunity for governments to recognize and regularize charcoal production by putting in place long-term plans for sustainable production, while at the same time creating a supportive legal and economic framework for micro- and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) development. Increasing efficiency and ensuring that the development of this sector does not accelerate deforestation requires appropriate policy interventions. There is ongoing research to develop more efficient charcoal production methods using improved kilns in a number of countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. There is also research on charcoal briquettes production using wastes such as farm refuse, sawdust and woodchips (Kalumiana 2000). These initiatives can be supported through active private sector involvement.

Urban markets for wood products are already attracting investment from the private sector and this interest is growing in many countries. There are additional opportunities for medium- and long-term investment. Commercial plantations for fuelwood and construction timber are big business in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia and many Sahelian countries like Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali.