Northern Africa is characterized by desert conditions, limited water resources and an arid climate. Forests are not common in most of the six countries, except along the coast of the western Mediterranean Sea and in the tropical zone of southern Sudan.


The total forest area in Northern Africa is about 67 million ha and constitutes 8.3 per cent of the total land area, which is about 10.4 per cent of the total African forest cover (FAO 2005). Closed forests occur on the coast of the western Mediterranean countries, in the Atlas Mountains and in southern Sudan. Other wooded areas occur as natural desert vegetation in sandy valleys (wadis) and depressions. Coastal and inland high mountains also support woody plants. Mangroves or tidal forests occupy small areas of the Red Sea coasts. Wetlands, with their hydrophilous reeds, and cultivated trees are important tree resources and provide various goods-and-services including timber, NTFPs, grazing and desertification control (AOAD 1998, Hegazy 1999). The distribution of forests and the rate of forest cover change are shown in Table 6.

Table 6: Forest cover as percentage of total land area in Northern Africa
  Total land area Forest area
Forest cover change
Country (’000 ha) Total forest (’000 ha) Percentage of land area (’000 ha) Annual change Annual rate of change

Algeria 238 174 2 145 0.9 27 1.3
Egypt 99 545 72 0.1 2 3.3
Libya 175 954 358 0.2 5 1.4
Morocco 44 630 3 025 6.8 -1 not available
Sudan 237 600 61 627 25.9 -959 -1.4
Tunisia 16 362 510 3.1 1 0.2
Total 812 265 67 737 8.3 -925 0.8

Source: Adapted from FAO 2005

Figure 2: Forest as a percentage of land 1990-2005 Forests have changed in both nature and extent over the last 30 years: closed forests and open forests used to cover a significant part of total land area. Available statistics indicate that the area of natural forests was reduced by about 53.3 per cent during the period 1972-1992 (FAO 1999). However, Northern Africa has begun to increase forest cover over the last decade, primarily through tree planting, with Egypt having the highest increase of 3.3 per cent, followed by Algeria at 1.3 per cent (FAO 2005). From 1990 to 2000, a total of 1 693 000 ha of trees was planted. This amounts to 27 per cent of the total forest cover in the sub-region (FAO 2002 and FAO 2005).


Natural forests in Northern Africa are important for protecting the environment and in particular in dune stabilization.

Due to their size, however, they have not been able to support any considerable commercial function. The total share of forests to GDP is very low except in Sudan, where it is about 13 per cent (FAO 1999). Where forests exist, fuelwood and charcoal are the major forest products. Production of industrial wood is very limited, implying that most demand for industrial roundwood and processed wood has to be met by imports (FAO 1999).


Box 2: Livestock production, biodiversity and human well-being

In general, forest plantation has been carried out for various purposes: sand dune fixation (eg Morocco and Egypt); rehabilitation of degraded steppe areas (eg Algeria); range rehabilitation and improvement, and watershed management (eg Morocco and Tunisia); and protection of agricultural areas (eg Libya, Egypt and Morocco). However, forest plantation efforts have not been able to keep up with the loss of natural forests.

Sources: FAO 1997

Over the past few decades, forests have been subjected to various pressures including land-clearing for human settlements and agricultural activities (Gilani 1997, Thirgood 1981, AOAD 1998). Livestock overgrazing, overcollection of fuelwood and charcoal production, urban sprawl, illicit felling, and frequent natural and man-made fires in the Mediterranean and tropical areas of the region have exterminated most of the natural forests and have degraded soils.

Although the annual average loss of forest is low at slightly less than 1 per cent (FAO 1999), forest loses estimated at 44 000 ha per year have been attributed to fires alone. In some countries, deforestation due to production of charcoal has increased eight to ten times more than the forest’s production capacity. Another major pressure on some of the forests is the increasing demand for gum arabic, particularly in Sudan (CAMRE/UNEP/ACSAD 1996, Abuzeid 1995).

In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the reduction of forests has resulted in a reduced influence on regulating water and maintaining soil. As a result, flooding, erosion, desertification and silted dams are on the increase. Forests and other woody vegetative cover in upland and sloping land serve important environmental functions in land stabilization, erosion control and regulation of hydrologic flow (FAO 1997). Recently, road construction, quarrying and mining industries, building dams and construction of irrigation canals have contributed to the deterioration of forest ecosystems by reducing forest areas and destroying habitats, thus affecting forest biodiversity.

Figure 3: Annual change rate in forests 2000 Other factors contributing to the decline of the forest resources include ambiguity of ownership, lack of technical personnel and lack of financial resources and appropriate technology, coupled with the underlying market and policy failures of forest resource pricing, and trade policies. Although forest legislation has been in place in most countries since the nineteenth century, its weaknesses and lack of enforcement had limited its effectiveness in protecting forests and wildlife resources (FAO 1999).


The extent of concerns about forest deterioration is reflected in the launch of substantial forestation and reforestation programmes and the various measures taken recently to protect and increase forest areas. Forest lands are being demarcated in all the countries, and new forest reserves have been declared in some countries like Sudan as a result of mounting awareness and interest in conservation. Managing forests on a sustainable basis is being pursued in a regional context. The Egyptian government, for example, through the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MANR), has successfully developed and implemented a programme for safer use of treated wastewater to plant trees in the Sarabium area, in the Governorate of Ismailia, next to the wastewater plant that treats 90 000 m³ per day. The planted area is almost 210 ha. This initiative could help reduce Egypt’s dependence on timber imports (EEAA 2002).

Forest plantations in the region represent the main way of extending forests and wooded areas. In 2000, Morocco had large eucalyptus (214 000 ha) and coniferous (235 000 ha) plantations. The total plantation area was 534 000 ha, the second largest plantation after Algeria (718 000 ha) (FAO 2002). Tunisia had a total plantation area of 202 000 ha in 2000. Egypt does not have natural forests, but has planted about 34 000 ha of trees (Riad 2000).