Trends related to African forests

22 jan 2015

Dr. Lundgren experiences in a series of articles. Several social, economic and land use trends have an impact on current and future use of forests and trees in Africa.

Deforestation and forest degradation

In spite of the growing awareness about the importance of forests (see earlier article), deforestation and forest degradation are still rampant in many parts of Africa, notably in West and East Africa, even if the rate has gone down marginally in the last decade – from c. 4.1 million ha/y (0.56%) in the 1990-2000 period and 3.4 million (0.49%) in the 2000-2010 decade. Although there are many causes for the degradation, the clearing of wooded lands for low-yielding agriculture is still the main reason.


Rapid economic development

A more positive trend is the rapid economic development in many African countries – there was an average annual growth rate in GDP of 4.8% in the 2001-2010 decade, and the trend continues – Sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to have a growth of 5.2% in 2014. Following this is a quick growth in middle income groups (in 2011, 60 million African households earned at least USD 3 000) and in urbanisation (40% of the population live in cities), which have resulted in a very significant rise in demand for wood- and fibre-based products, from charcoal, via construction wood, paper products and standard furniture and interior design features (flooring, doors, window frames, etc.), to more luxury items such as exclusive furniture. A large part of these increased needs are still imported but more and more investors, both local and international, see the potential in the forest sector in Africa. The globalisation of trade and markets, Africa’s strategic geographical position and its apparent potential for exporting wood-based products (and not only logs as today) further underline this trend. Countries like China[1], India and Brazil have vastly increased their investments on the continent, so far mainly in the energy (oil, gas and hydropower), mineral, construction and infrastructure, mechanical industry and agricultural sectors, but increasingly also in the forest sector.


Search for available land

The latter point leads us to a more controversial trend affecting the future of forestry in Africa, viz. that of increasing search for available land for expanding food, fibre and fuel production[2]. Africa is a continent which certainly has vast expanses of land with sparse population and extensive current land use – e.g. the miombo woodlands of Southern Africa and the rain forest regions of Central Africa – suitable for large scale production of food and energy crops and timber plantations. The scramble for such land, both by local and foreign investors, has exploded in the last 10-15 years. It has led to many conflicts and disagreements between investors, governments and local communities, and the characterisation of such investments as land grabbing and theft is often heard. However, there are an increasing numbers of very good examples where investors, local communities, and local and national governments have come to very satisfactory arrangements with benefits to all concerned.


Shift in commercial tree production towards farms and communities

Another trend worth highlighting, partly addressing similar problems and potentials as that of land availability, but mainly operating in more densely populated areas, is that of a shift in commercial tree production towards farms and communities. As a result of increased demands for timber, but also of improved land tenure conditions and declining real prices of agricultural cash crops, famers in many areas in Africa have realised the potential of investing in tree growing for sale – as timber to local sawmills, scaffolding poles to building companies, charcoal for urban people, etc. – as a source of income comparable to other crops. Sometimes this is done on a contractual basis as out-growers to forest industries, e.g. in South Africa. This trend has also resulted in, and been made possible by, a rapid increase in tree grower associations and cooperatives, e.g. in Eastern and Southern Africa[3].


Forests and their management in relation to climate change

On the international policy and development scene, a very strong trend in the last decade has been to increasingly and singularly regard forests and their management in relation to climate change and the ongoing discussions on this topic. This is also of relevance to and affects Africa[4] – no forest-related development and economic undertaking, new policy, research and education programme, conservation effort, etc., can be launched without predominantly justifying it for its impact on climate change mitigation and/or adaptation. While this may be positive in that it puts a new focus on forests and forestry, and attracts previously unheard of amounts of funds for forest-climate initiatives, it also has drawbacks. The most problematic one is that this focus on climate change takes attention away from the enormously important current and potential roles of sustainably managed forests and trees as drivers of economic development and poverty alleviation. Or, from the much more immediately important needs of conserving forests for biodiversity protection and hydrology enhancement. However, there are many positive signs today that funders of various REDD+, carbon credit and climate mitigation programmes realise that without putting economic and conventional conservation effects in the foreground, it will not be realistic to achieve major positive impacts on climate through forest-climate” programmes[5].



Share Dr. Björn Lundgren experiences

This is the fourth article in a series of articles were Dr. Björn Lundgren share his experiences from Africa. During the last months several articles have been published about e.g. policy processes, trends, potential roles of forests and trees in Africa to address challenges and potentials.

Author: Dr. Björn Lundgren, Editor: Dr. Fredrik Ingemarson

Photo. Prof. Godwin Kowero


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




[1]Sun, X., P. Ren and M. van Epp, 2014. Chinese views of African forests: evidence and perception of China-Africa links that impact the governance of forests and livelihoods. Natural Resource Issues No. 29. IIED, London.

[2]KSLA, 2012. The global need for food, fiber and fuel. Land use perspectives on constraints and opportunities in meeting future demands. KSLAT 4:2012.

Chipeta, M., 2012. Land acquisition for food and fuel and implications for development, food security and forests: a view from African countries with perceived land resources. KSLAT 4:2012. Pp 65-77.

[3] Johansson, K-E., C. Nantongo, P. Gondo, A. Roos and D. Kleinschmit, 2013. Community based forest groups in Eastern and Southern Africa – a study of prospects for capacity improvement. International Forestry Review, 15(4):471-488.

[4]Chidumayo, E., D. Okali, G. Kowero and M. Larwanou (eds.), 2011. Climate change and African forest and wildlife resources. 249 pp. African Forest Forum, Nairobi.

[5]ETFRN, 2014. Linking FLEGT and REDD+ to improve forest governance. European Tropical Forest Research Network. ETFRN post N0. 55. 212 pp.