Forests and woodlands are widespread and include high altitude forest, medium altitude moist evergreen forest and semi-deciduous forests. Most of the larger tracts of forests are gazetted as forest reserves, but there are also extensive patches of forests and woodlands outside the gazetted forest estate that are under the management of local communities or private landowners. Forests, particularly those in the Eastern Arc and the Albertine rift, are rich in biological diversity (UNEP 2002).

Forests and woodlands provide substantive livelihoods for many people. They provide both direct economic benefits (energy, food, timber and non-timber products) and indirect benefits through the provision of ecological services (water catchment, controlling erosion and moderation of local climate). Woodfuel and timber are among the most important forest products, with woodfuel being the main source of energy and timber being extensively used in the construction industry (FAO 2003a). Annually, about 173 million m³ of woodfuel and about 5.2 million m³ of industrial roundwood is produced, most of which is consumed within the sub-region (FAO 2005).

As forest-based supplies of timber and NTFPs decline, trees outside forests have become more important. In fact, increasing demand has led to substantial tree planting of woodlots and, in some countries, including Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, home gardens and woodlots have become important sources of wood and NTFPs (FAO 2003a).

Table 5: Forest area and area change in the Eastern Africa countries as of 2000
Country Total land area
(’000 ha)
Total forest area
(’000 ha)
% of
land area
Annual change
’000 ha (1990-2000)
Annual rate of change
% (1990-2000)

Burundi 2 568 94 3.7 -15 -9.0
Djibouti 2 317 6 0.3 not available not available
Eritrea 11 759 1 585 13.5 -5 -0.3
Ethiopia 11 430 4 593 4.2 -40 -0.8
Kenya 56 915 17 096 30 -93 -0.5
Rwanda 2 466 307 12.4 -15 -3.9
Somalia 62 734 7 515 12.0 -77 -1.0
Uganda 19 964 4 190 21.0 -91 -0.2

Source: FAO 2005


Eastern Africa has rather limited forest and woodland cover amounting to approximately 13 per cent (UNEP 2002). Forest and woodland cover varies considerably, as shown in Table 5. Kenya is the most forested country with about 30 per cent of its land area under forest, followed by Uganda with 21 per cent. Djibouti has the least forest cover with about 6 000 ha or only 0.3 per cent of the land area under forests (FAO 2005).

It is estimated that the change in forest cover in Eastern Africa is 0.51 per cent per year. There is, however, considerable variation between countries, with Burundi experiencing a decline of 9 per cent compared with 2 per cent in Uganda (FAO 2005). At the current deforestation rates, and if sustainable forest management practices are not promptly adopted, forests and woodlands may degrade rapidly by 2020 (FAO 2003a). There is, however, no reliable data on the extent of forests and woodlands that are sustainably managed (FAO 2003a). In some countries, such as Eritrea, forests are not protected, which makes them even more vulnerable to degradation (MoLWE Department of Environment 1995, MoLWE Department of Environment 2000).


Forests and woodlands are a vital resource. Their effective utilization is important and should be based on the equitable sharing of benefits, costs and knowledge. Forests are a source of wealth that can be realized through sustainable harvesting of timber and non-timber products, tourism and ecotourism, and carbon trading. Forests also provide catchment protection, in addition to being reservoirs for biodiversity. The forest watershed catchment value for Uganda, for example, has been calculated to be US$13.2 million per year (Moyini and others 2002). There is potential to enhance community benefits through joint forest management. Joint forest management and forest user groups increase community participation and help achieve economic, social and environmental goals that governments sometimes have difficulties meeting (FAO 2005).

Valuation studies have been undertaken in various countries (Shechambo 2002, Emerton 2001). Though data is fragmented, the overall picture is that the resource endowment value for forests and woodlands is a big contribution to GDP (NEMA 1998, Moyini and others 2002, EPA 2003). Wood, for example, contributes directly to national economies as a source of energy supply (FAO 2005). Currently woodfuel prices range from US$1 to US$10 per cubic metre in developing countries (Broadhead and others 2001). The market prices of woodfuel can be used as a rough estimate of the value of woodfuel production, and with the total production of 173 million m3 of woodfuel its value ranges from US$173 million to US$1 700 million per year (FAO 2005). There are other positive externalities associated with wood energy, for example, the employment generated by wood energy production (FAO 2005). The negative externality is the environmental cost of woodfuel harvesting in terms of forest loss and degradation (FAO 2005).


Forests and woodlands are the main source of fuel for the majority of the households and while this is an opportunity it is also directly linked to the main threats: deforestation and declining forest quality. Throughout the sub-region, the rate of offtake from the forest is more than the natural regeneration capacity. There is very little investment in forestation and reforestation.

Chronic lack of resources and low public investment remains problematic in the forest sector (FAO 2005). Mismanagement, inadequate or non-existent inventory, and poor monitoring hinder the effective use of the opportunities offered by forests and woodlands. Poor governance, including limited opportunity for community involvement and mismanaged decentralization, along with the undervaluation of the total contribution of forests and woodlands to livelihoods, contribute to unsustainable practices.