Southern Africa has a range of forest and woodland types that provide key goods-and-services and are a valuable source of export earnings and revenue as well as for local livelihoods.

These forests and woodland types include tropical rain forests found in parts of Angola and the Congo basin; afromontane forests found in pockets in the high altitude and high rainfall areas of Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe; mangrove forests found on the coastline of Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa; Zambezi teak forests found in the western parts of Zimbabwe and Zambia, extending into northern Botswana, north-eastern Namibia and parts of south-eastern Angola; Miombo woodlands found north of the Limpopo River; Mopane woodlands found in the dry and low-lying parts of Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and the Cape Floristic Centre forests found along the south-western coastline and located entirely within South Africa (McCullum 2000).


Forests and woodlands cover about 221.94 million ha or 32.5 per cent of the total land area (FAO 2005). As shown in Table 7 there is considerable variation in vegetation cover across countries. Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa are the least forested countries with less than 30 per cent forest cover. At 56 per cent vegetation cover, Angola is the most densely forested country in the sub-region (UNEP 2002).

Table 7: Forest and woodland cover in Southern Africa 2000
Country Total land area
(’000 ha)
Forest cover in 2000
(’000 ha)
Land area
Total forest plantation
(’000 ha)

Angola 124 670 69 756 56.0 141
Botswana 56 673 12 427 21.9 1
Lesotho 3 035 14 0.5 14
Malawi 9 408 2 562 27.2 112
Mozambique 79 409 30 601 39.0 50
Namibia 82 329 8 040 9.8 not available
South Africa 122 704 8 917 7.3 1 554
Swaziland 1 720 522 30.3 161
Tanzania 88 359 38 811 43.9 135
Zambia 74 339 31 246 42.0 75
Zimbabwe 38 667 19 040 49.2 141

Source: FAO 2005

Of the total forested area in the region, 2.5 million ha was under forest plantations in 2001 (UNEP 2002). This represents a 9 per cent growth in plantations when compared with the 2.3 million ha of plantations in 1992 (Chenje and Johnson 1994). Lesotho has experienced considerable growth in the extent of its forests, doubling the area under forest plantation from 7 000 ha in 2000 to 14 000 ha in 2003 (FAO 2003a). As Table 7 shows, South Africa has the largest extent of forest plantations followed by Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Angola, Tanzania and Malawi.

However, the total land under forests declined from 1990 to 2000. Over this period, South Africa experienced a deforestation rate of 0.1 per cent per year, Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania 0.2 per cent, Botswana and Namibia 0.9 per cent, Swaziland 1.2 per cent, Zimbabwe 1.5 per cent, and Zambia and Malawi 2.4 per cent (FAO 2005).


Forests and woodlands provide essential materials for local consumption, trade and export. The significance of the timber industry is shown in Table 8.

Table 8: Forest timber-based industry in Southern Africa*
Product Production
Share of global production (%) Lead Southern African producers

Industrial roundwood (million m³) 23.97 23.61 34.9 South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe
Sawn timber (million m³) 2.22 2.47 28.9 South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe
Wood-based panels (million m³) 0.603 0.597 29.3 South Africa, Malawi and Zambia
Plywood (million m³) 0.070 0.071 10.2 South Africa, Mozambique and Angola
Fibreboard (million m³) 0.150 0.154 65.2 South Africa
Wood pulp (tonnes) 2.351 1.464 87.5 South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe
Paper and paperboard (t) 2.125 1.892 72.9 South Africa and Zimbabwe
Newsprint (t) 0.345 0.201 93.8 South Africa and Zimbabwe
Printing and writing paper (t) 0.515 0.672 78.3 South Africa

Source: FAO 2003b

Other functions of forests and woodlands include environmental and cultural services. Forests and woodlands are often important sacred and burial sites. With the exception of South Africa, fuelwood is the primary source of energy. Fuelwood consumption continues to increase; in 2000 total fuelwood consumption was estimated at 178 million m³. About 87 per cent of the roundwood production in the region is used as fuelwood (FAO 2003d). The situation is likely to continue since fuelwood remains the most reliable, affordable and accessible source of energy for poor households. However, as discussed in Chapter 2: Atmosphere, several countries are investing in the development of renewable solar and wind energy.

In addition to timber, wood-processing and paper production, forests and woodlands provide a wide range of goods-and-services for subsistence and trade including medicinal plants, fruits, exudates, bee products, insects, roots, thatch grass, forage and mushrooms. As a result of expanding international trade in medicinal plants and indigenous fruit, it is important to develop a legal regime for intellectual and property rights which recognizes and respects local people’s interests, and ensures equitable benefit sharing.


Some countries in Southern Africa have very fast-growing populations, and face the challenge of needing to increase food supplies to meet demand for food (UNEP 2002). Population change is shown in Table 9. This has necessitated the opening up of large areas of forests and woodlands for agricultural production. Between 1990 and 2000, forest cover fell from 380 to 357 million ha. The increase in urbanization and the pressure on land in peri-urban areas for cultivation also present new challenges.

Fire plays an important role in determining the distribution and composition of some vegetation types. It is responsible for the widespread occurrence of grasslands in Southern Africa. Observations from Mbeya, Tanzania, indicate that burning encourages growth of grass and prevents regeneration of woody plants (Chenje 2000).

Table 9: Population density and rate of population change in Southern Africa
Country Total land area
(’000 ha)
Total population
’000 (in 2003)
Density per sq. km
in 2003
Annual rate of population
change 2000-2005 (%)
Rural population
2003 (%)

Angola 124 670 13 625 10.9 3.1 64.3
Botswana 56 673 1 785 3.1 0.8 48.4
Lesotho 3 053 1 802 59.4 0.2 82.1
Malawi 9 409 12 105 128.7 2.0 83.7
Mozambique 78 409 18 863 24.1 1.7 64.4
Namibia 82 329 1 987 2.4 1.4 67.6
South Africa 121 758 45 026 37.0 0.6 43.1
Swaziland 1 721 1 077 62.6 0.8 76.5
Tanzania 88 359 36 977 41.8 1.9 64.6
Zambia 74 339 10 812 14.5 1.2 64.3
Zimbabwe 38 685 12 891 33.3 0.5 65.1

Source: FAO 2005


Many countries have made major investments in rural forestation programmes with a bias in indigenous species and agroforestry. Further, in attempting to reduce deforestation caused by the overharvesting of commercial indigenous timber, Botswana and Zambia have restricted logging of timber for commercial purposes while Zimbabwe has imposed a ban on the export of unprocessed indigenous timber.

All SADC Member States signed the SADC Forestry Protocol, and three countries had ratified it by 2004 (SADC 2002). The specific objectives of the Protocol include the promotion of the development, conservation, sustainable management and utilization of all types of forests and trees; the promotion of trade in forest products in order to alleviate poverty and generate economic opportunities; and the achievement of the effective protection of the environment and the safeguard of the interests of both present and future generations (SADC 2002).

There is also growing pressure to certify the origin of wood products to show that they are obtained from sustainably managed areas as a response to growing awareness of the negative environmental and social impacts of deforestation. Certification has only been done in some exotic timber plantations where considerable value addition is done to timber products. The entire 974 000 ha of certified plantations in Africa are, however, mostly found in Southern Africa (FAO 2003b), with the highest proportions being in South Africa followed by Swaziland and then Zimbabwe.

Many governments acknowledge the potential value and opportunity that forests and woodlands bring to improving livelihoods, particularly in rural areas, and are increasingly recognizing that secure tenure is an important aspect of this. Several countries have initiated reforms to support local communities, including the empowerment of local bodies and communities to manage communal resources through a process of decentralization and devolution of administrative powers and responsibilities.


The people of Southern Africa will continue to be highly dependent on forests and woodlands for the foreseeable future. Despite their aspirations, many people may even become more dependent on natural resources as poverty and population increase. The region is therefore challenged to realize the multiple benefits accruing from forests and woodlands, in addition to crop production which converts forests to cultivable land (Chenje 2000). The multiple uses of forests include commercial timber production. Certification can serve as a check on management practices. However, the process of certification is expensive, and this challenges the region to add value to forest and woodland products and increase their revenue.

The commercialization of NTFPs raises the issue of benefit sharing at the community, national and international levels. Legislation that regulates access to forest resources by outside parties is poorly developed. This deficiency may result in biopiracy, especially of medicinal plants, which are highly profitable on the global market and about which traditional healers have a lot of knowledge.

It must be noted that existing information on forests and woodlands is often outdated and incomplete. This is partly because most of it is obtained from secondary sources. For instance, no forestry inventory has been done in Angola since independence in 1975 (Chenje 2000). Therefore, an important challenge is to develop and update its forest and woodlands database, and to develop effective monitoring and evaluation systems.