Unreliable statistics on Forests in Africa

22 aug 2014

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

, of the development of the forests and the forest sector in Africa.

Trade in carbon confuses definitions

Available quantitative and qualitative information on forest areas and resources, and their use, in Africa (mainly obtainable from FAO[1] and the World Bank[2]) is often unreliable. This is partly because it is compiled from submissions of statistics from some countries that have not, or only partly, undertaken complete forest inventories, and partly because definitions of what constitute different forms of “forests” varies and changes over time and between countries. More recently, the question of c have been further confused as individual countries are making cases for trade in carbon. In addition, significant proportions of the cutting of wood and use of wood-based products fall outside the formal sectors of the economy, and are therefore not captured in official statistics.

A growing volume of wood outside forests

Nevertheless, using the most often quoted figures, Africa today has a forest area of c. 675 million ha, which equals c. 23% of the land area of the continent. In addition, there is c. 350 million ha (13% of area) of “other wooded land” (wooded savannahs, thickets and shrubland, etc.). Finally, there is a considerable, and apparently growing, volume of wood contained in “trees outside forests”, which include trees and other woody plants in rural landscapes (farms, pastures, agroforestry and horticultural systems, etc.) as well as in urban settings, on private land, along roads, etc. This latter category is almost impossible to quantify in terms of area and only very local studies are available that put volume and value numbers on such resources.

Dryland forests dominate

The main types of forest are the many forms of “dryland forests” of Southern (e.g. miombo wood-lands) and Eastern (e.g. wooded savannas) Africa and the Sahel region (parklands), and the Rain forests of the Congo Basin and parts of West Africa. Other types of forests do not cover large areas but may be very important, e.g. the mangrove forests along the coasts which cover a total of only 3 million ha, but are essential in protecting coastal ecosystems and inland areas, or the often small areas of mountain rain forests in the highlands of East Africa which act as “water towers” and regulate the hydrology of vast surrounding areas.

Moderate rate of plantation establishments

The area of planted forests in Africa is today given as c. 15 million ha. However, this includes large areas of even-aged (but, strictly speaking, managed natural stands) gum arabic gardens in Sudan and sometimes also rubber tree, oil palm, coconut and other horticultural plantations. Plantations established for timber production and/or protection purposes are probably limited to c. 10-12 million ha, of which 2 million ha are commercial plantations in South Africa. The rate of plantation establishment is moderate but has increased in recent years.

Share Dr. Björn Lundgren experiences

Within the coming weeks several articles will be published about e.g. the uses, 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


[1]FAO, 2010. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010. Main Report. FAO Forestry Paper 163. 378 pp. FAO, Rome.

FAO, 2011. State of the World’s Forests. 179 pp. FAO, Rome.

FAO, 2012. State of the World’s Forests. 60 pp. FAO, Rome.

[2]World Bank, 2012. Forests, Trees and Woodlands in Africa. An Action Plan for World Bank Engagement. 112 pp. PROFOR.          World Bank, Africa Region. Washington D.C.