About UNEP UNEP Offices News Centre Publications Events Awards Milestones UNEP Store
GEO-3: GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT OUTLOOK  
UNEP Website GEO Home Page

Forests: Africa

Forest extent: Africa

Some 22 per cent of Africa is still forested but during 1990-2000 Africa lost more than 50 million ha, at an annual average rate of 0.7 per cent a year

Note: dark green represents closed forest, more than 40 per cent covered with trees more than 5 metres high; mid-green represents open (10-40 per cent coverage) and fragmented forest; light green represents other woodland, shrubland and bushland

Source: FAO 2001a

Africa's forest cover is estimated at 650 million ha, constituting 17 per cent of the world's forests (FAO 2001a). The major forest types are dry tropical forests in the Sahel, Eastern and Southern Africa, moist tropical forests in Western and Central Africa, subtropical forest and woodland formations in Northern Africa and the southern tip of the continent, and mangroves in the coastal zones. They include a number of international biodiversity hotspots (Mittermeier and others 2000). Only 1 per cent of forests in Africa have been planted.

African forests provide many goods and services. A
study in Madagascar estimated the value of forest
products to the local villages to be US$200 000 over ten years (Kremen and others 2000). In Ghana, it is estimated that 16-20 per cent of the local population's food supply is met from forest products, and as many as 150 animal and plant species are used. The Cross River State rainforest of Nigeria is home to more than 700 species of plants and animals, some 430 of which are used as non-timber forest products (ODA 1994).

Deforestation, both for commercial timber and to make room for agriculture, is the major concern and represents an enormous loss of natural economic wealth to the continent. Selective vegetation removal (during logging and woodfuel collection) contributes to loss of forest quality and biodiversity. Overharvesting of non-timber forest resources, including medicinal plants, adds to this problem. There is also concern that the bushmeat trade, which is prevalent in Central and Western Africa, may be endangering a number of forest-dwelling mammals. The pressures on forests and woodlands are exacerbated by the construction of access roads (by forestry and mining companies), which opens up closed forest areas, making the resources more accessible, and their trade more profitable.

Change in forested land 1990-2000 by sub-region: Africa
  total land area
(million ha)
total forest 1990
(million ha)
total forest 2000
(million ha)
% of land forested in 2000 change 1990-2000
(million ha)
% change per year
Central Africa 524.3 249.4 240.3 45.8 -9.1 -0.37
Eastern Africa 243.8 38.8 35.4 14.5 -3.4 -0.87
Northern Africa 851.0 77.1 67.9 8.0 -9.2 -1.22
Southern Africa 679.8 239.1 222.0 32.6 -17.1 -0.70
Western Africa 605.6 85.1 72.5 12.0 -12.6 -1.53
Western Indian Ocean 58.9 13.0 11.9 20.1 -1.1 -0.90
Africa 2 963.3 702.5 649.9 21.9 -52.6 -0.7
Source: compiled from FAO 2001b Note: numbers may not add due to rounding