Potential roles of forests and trees in Africa

Dr. Björn Lundgren shares his valuable experiences in a series of articles.

It is useful to look at the roles and opportunities of forests and trees in addressing the potentials and challenges under three groups of categories:

  • as contributors to economic development and poverty alleviation
  • as contributors to improved food security
  • for enhancing environmental stability and values

Economic development and poverty alleviation

There is a multitude of ways in which wood and non-wood forest/tree products can contribute to income generation and economic development – through production, value adding, sale of and trade in a large variety of goods and services. This applies to both basic necessities (fuel, fodder, building material, furniture, paper products, etc.) and more “luxury” and esoteric items (such as finer furniture, wood-based craft, eco-tourism, etc.). There are niches to be exploited for farmers, communities, small and large private enterprise, and for governments (taxes and public enterprises). Such potentials have never been more obvious than today with the rapid economic development in other sectors of the economies, urbanisation and growing middle classes, and export potentials following the globalisation of trade.

Food security

Similarly, there are many ways in which forests and trees can (and must) support food security and production – as an income supplement for rural people, as a soil fertility improver, direct production of food and fodder from trees, by contributing to water availability in agricultural landscapes, by providing a more amenable micro-climate for crops and domestic animals, etc. Recently, the actual and potential roles of trees in supporting food and nutrition requirements also of the rapidly growing urban populations in Africa were highlighted (FAO Regional Office for Africa 2014).

Environmental enhancement

The roles of forests in environmental enhancement are obvious: as mechanisms for increasing carbon stock build up, as bases for ecosystem and biodiversity conservation and services, as regulators of macro-hydrology stability, etc.

Realise the potentials

In order to fully realise these roles and potentials, there are many challenges andproblems that must be addressed and solved. These relate, for example, to:

  • the need for increased technical know-how on the features and management of trees and forests (e.g. reliable inventories; improved planting material; appropriate harvesting and transport technologies),
  • putting in place and enforcing enabling policies and legislation (e.g. related to secure tenure; trade; control of illegal logging; certification; availability of credits; clearly identified roles of forests and how they interact with other land uses and economic sectors),
  • improved and functioning institutions and organisations (e.g. forest authorities with clear mandates; effective farmer, community and industry organisations; research and training institutions),
  • sufficient numbers of trained and educated people (at all relevant levels), and,
  • infrastructure and modern primary and secondary industry (e.g. roads, railways and harbours; functional value chains to connect raw material supply with primary and secondary industry and onwards to internal and external trade).

Potential contributions by Nordic actors

The coming article by Dr Lundgren will focus upon potential contributions by Nordic/European actors as partners in developing the forest sector in Africa.

Earlier articles by Dr Lundgren

Unreliable statistics on Forests in Africa

Uses of trees and forests in Africa

Growing awareness of the roles of trees and forests in Africa

Trends related to African forests


Picture: The Atlas Mountains-Morocco, Dr. Alexander Buck