Figure 5: Percentage of forest area The total forest cover in Western African is about 115 million ha, representing 12 per cent of the total land area (FAO 2005). Forest cover varies considerably from one country to another, as shown in Figure 5. Guinea-Bissau is the most forested with 60.5 per cent forest cover, while Mauritania is the least forested with only 0.3 per cent (FAO 2005).

Figure 6: Extent of the Guinea forest hotspot The Guinea Forest of Western Africa, which extends from the coastline of Guinea to the borders of Cameroon, is important from a biodiversity perspective. It is recognized by Conservation International as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and encompasses part of the UpperGuinea Forest Ecosystem: Guinea, eastern Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and western Togo (CEPF 2000). It also encompasses the Lower Guinea Forest Ecosystem, including western Nigeria, south-western Cameroon, the islands of Bioko and Pagalu (Equatorial Guinea), as well as São Tomé and Príncipe (CEPF 2000). The extent of this area is shown in Figure 6. The area is under considerable pressure from logging industries and farming or hunting activities. Only 15 per cent of its original vegetation (approximately 141 000 km² of closed canopy forest cover) is left, and is, moreover, highly fragmented (CEPF 2000). The largest remaining portion is in Liberia, where civil conflicts disrupted conservation activities.

Figure 4: Forest cover in Western Africa 1990-2000 Deforestation varies across the region. In terms of land area, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire have by far the highest annual rate of forest loss, at nearly 663 000 ha.

Statistical data on forest plantations is unreliable due to lack of inventory and frequent forest fires, lack of maintenance and uncontrolled land clearance for cultivation. However, countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Nigeria have made some efforts in the establishment of industrial plantations (UNEP/NESDA 2004). In the Sahelian zone, such plantations are not established on an industrial basis and are less important, except in Senegal where plantations are created to stop desertification, which is an important ecological problem (FAO 2002).


In several countries, especially in the Sahel, more than 90 per cent of wood consumed is used as fuelwood, mostly for domestic energy requirements (UNEP/NESDA 2004). In Mali and Burkina Faso, for example 93 and 96 per cent respectively of wood is used for fuel (UNEP/NESDA 2004). In Gambia, 97.8 per cent of all household energy comes from wood energy (NEA 2002). Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire are the leading roundwood producers in the sub-region (FAO 2003c). For example, roundwood production in 2000 in Côte d’Ivoire amounted to about 3.4 million m³ and in Nigeria to 9.4 million m³. The timber industry represents an important source of GNP.

Western Africa’s forests present a good potential for carbon sequestration. With the CDM, a monetary value can be given to environmental benefits coming from activities aimed at reducing carbon emissions.


Forest resources are threatened by a combination of factors, including agricultural expansion, increased collection of fuelwood, overgrazing, fast urbanization, industrialization, drought, civil wars and bush fires, which result in changes in forest cover (UNEP/NESDA 2004). Rapid deforestation is an issue of major concern, given the scope of degradation, which started in the 1970s. According to FAO (2001), close to 12 million ha of forests were lost in Western Africa from 1990 to 2000. The other concern is rapid loss of unique flora and fauna. As the forests disappear, the populations of wild animals and plants also reduce.

Recurrent civil strife has had considerable impact on the forest resources. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, for example, timber was illegally exploited during the civil conflict to finance the war, resulting in the reduction of the two countries’ forest cover from 38.1 per cent to 31.3 per cent during the 1990s (UNEP 2004). In addition, after the war, reconstruction efforts further pressured forest resources through the increased demand for construction timber.

In the Sahelian zone, deforestation is spiralling out of control largely as a result of the vagaries of the weather. The challenges associated with climate change are discussed more fully in Chapter 2: Atmosphere. The rate of woody biomass offtake outstrips the natural regeneration to the extent that wood is not really considered a renewable resource any more (AGRHYMET 2002). The annual rate of forest loss in Niger, for example, which has the highest rate of deforestation, is about 100 000 ha against 5 000 ha of forest replanting (CNEDD-Niger 2002).