Forests and woodlands are widespread and include high altitude forest, medium altitude moist evergreen forest and semi-deciduous forests. Most of the larger tracts of forests are gazetted as forest reserves, but there are also extensive patches of forests and woodlands outside the gazetted forest estate that are under the management of local communities or private landowners. Forests, particularly those in the Eastern Arc and the Albertine rift, are rich in biological diversity.
Forests and woodlands provide substantive livelihoods for many people. They provide both direct economic benefits (energy, food, timber and nontimber products) and indirect benefits through the provision of ecological services (water catchment, controlling erosion and moderation of local climate). Woodfuel and timber are among the most important forest products, with woodfuel being the main source of energy and timber being extensively used in the construction industry. Annually, about 173 million m3 of woodfuel and about 5.2 million m3 of industrial roundwood is produced, most of which is consumed within the sub-region.
As forest-based supplies of timber and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) decline, trees outside forests have become more important. In fact, increasing demand has led to substantial tree planting of woodlots and, in some countries, including Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, home gardens and woodlots have become important sources of wood and NTFPs.
Overview of resources
Eastern Africa has rather limited forest and woodland cover amounting to approximately 13 percent. Forest and woodland cover varies considerably, as shown in Table 1. Kenya is the most forested country with about 30 percent of its land area under forest, followed by Uganda with 21 percent. Djibouti has the least forest cover with about 6,000 hectares (ha) or only 0.3 percent of the land area under forests.
It is estimated that the change in forest cover in Eastern Africa is 0.51 percent per year. There is, however, considerable variation between countries, with Burundi experiencing a decline of 9 percent compared with 2 percent in Uganda. At the current deforestation rates, and if sustainable forest management practices are not promptly adopted, forests and woodlands may degrade rapidly by 2020. There is, however, no reliable data on the extent of forests and woodlands that are sustainably managed. In some countries, such as Eritrea, forests are not protected, which makes them even more vulnerable to degradation.
Endowments and opportunities
(Source: C. Lambrechts/UNEP)
Forests and woodlands are a vital resource. Their effective utilization is important and should be based on the equitable sharing of benefits, costs and knowledge. Forests are a source of wealth that can be realized through sustainable harvesting of timber and non-timber products, tourism and ecotourism, and carbon trading. Forests also provide catchment protection, in addition to being reservoirs for biodiversity. The forest watershed catchment value for Uganda, for example, has been calculated to be US$13.2 million per year. There is potential to enhance community benefits through joint forest management. Joint forest management and forest user groups increase community participation and help achieve economic, social and environmental goals that governments sometimes have difficulties meeting.
Valuation studies have been undertaken in various countries. Though data is fragmented, the overall picture is that the resource endowment value for forests and woodlands is a big contribution to gross domestic product (GDP). Wood, for example, contributes directly to national economies as a source of energy supply. Currently woodfuel prices range from US$1 to US$10 per cubic metre in developing countries. The market prices of woodfuel can be used as a rough estimate of the value of woodfuel production, and with the total production of 173 million m3 of woodfuel its value ranges from US$173 million to US$1,700 million per year. There are other positive externalities associated with wood energy, for example, the employment generated by wood energy production.
The negative externality is the environmental cost of woodfuel harvesting in terms of forest loss and degradation.
Challenges faced in realizing opportunities for development
Forests and woodlands are the main source of fuel for the majority of the households and while this is an opportunity it is also directly linked to the main threats: deforestation and declining forest quality. Throughout the sub-region, the rate of offtake from the forest is more than the natural regeneration capacity. There is very little investment in forestation and reforestation. Chronic lack of resources and low public investment remains problematic in the forest sector.
Mismanagement, inadequate or non-existent inventory, and poor monitoring hinder the effective use of the opportunities offered by forests and woodlands. Poor governance, including limited opportunity for community involvement and mismanaged decentralization, along with the undervaluation of the total contribution of forests and woodlands to livelihoods, contribute to unsustainable practices.
- Broadhead, J., Bahdon, J. and Whiteman, A., 2001. Past trends and future prospects for the utilisation of wood for energy. Global ForestProducts Outlook Study Working Paper GFPOS/WP/05. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
- Emerton, L., 2001. Valuing Forest Resources in East Africa. Report of the Regional Workshop held on 2nd-4th April 2001 in Arusha. GEF/UNDP/FAO Cross-border Biodiversity Project “Reducing Biodiversity Loss at selected Cross border sites in East Africa”. Economics Component Technical Report No.1. IUCN – the World Conservation Union, Nairobi.
- EPA, 2003. State of Environment Report for Ethiopia. Environment Protection Agency, Addis Ababa.
- FAO, 2003. Forestry Outlook Study for Africa African Development Bank, European Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
- FAO, 2005. State of the World’s Forests 2005. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
- MoLWE Department of Environment, 1995. National Environmental Management Plan for Eritrea (NEMP-E). Department of Environment, Ministry of Land,Water and Environment, Asmara.
- MoLWE Department of Environment, 2000. National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for Eritrea. Department of Environment, Ministry of Land,Water and Environment, Asmara.
- Moyini,Y., Muramira, E., Emerton, L. and Schechambo, F. (In preparation). The Costs of Environmental Degradation and Loss to Uganda’s Economy with Particular Reference to Poverty Eradication. IUCN – The World Conservation Union Eastern Africa Regional Office, Nairobi.
- NEMA, 1998. State of Environment Report for Uganda, 1998. National Environment Management Authority, Kampala.
- Shechambo, F., 2002. A Tool Kit for Forest Valuation in East Africa. GEF/UNDP/FAO, Cross-Border Biodiversity Project “Reducing Biodiversity Loss at Cross border sites in East Africa”. Economics Component Technical Report No. 11. IUCN – The World Conservation Union, Nairobi.
- UNEP, 2002. African Environment Outlook: Past, Present and Future Perspectives. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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