The Territory and Current Status of the African Rainforest

African Rainforests
African tropical rainforest. World Conservation Monitoring Centre - World Bank

The vast African rainforest stretches across much of the central African continent, encompassing the following countries in its woods: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, MauritaniaMauritius, Mozambique, NigerNigeriaRwanda, Senegal, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra LeoneSomalia, SudanTanzania, TogoUganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Degradation

Except for the Congo Basin, the tropical rainforests of Africa have been largely depleted by commercial exploitation: logging and conversion for agriculture. In West Africa, nearly 90 percent of the original rainforest is gone. The remainder is heavily fragmented and in a degraded state, being poorly used.

Especially problematic in Africa is desertification and conversion of rainforests to erodible agriculture and grazing lands. To counteract this trend, the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations have put a number of global initiatives in place.

Details About the Rainforest's Status

By far, the largest number of countries with rainforests are located in one geographical section of the world—the Afrotropical region. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that these countries, mainly in West and Central Africa, are mostly poor with populations that live at the subsistence level.

Most of the tropical rainforests of Africa exist in the Congo (Zaire) River Basin, though remnants also are present throughout Western Africa in a sorry state due to the plight of poverty, which encourages subsistence agriculture and firewood harvesting. This realm is dry and seasonal when compared to the other areas, and the outlying portions of this rainforest are steadily becoming a desert.

Over 90 percent of West Africa's original forest has been lost over the last century and only a small part of what remains qualifies as "closed" forest. Africa lost the highest percentage of rainforests during the 1980s of any other tropical region. During 1990–95 the annual rate of total deforestation in Africa was nearly 1 percent. In the whole of Africa, for every 28 trees cut down, only one tree is replanted.

Challenges and Solutions

According to rainforest expert Rhett Butler, who wrote the book "A Place Out of Time: Tropical Rainforests and the Perils They Face,"

"The outlook for the region's rainforests is not promising. Many countries have agreed in principle to conventions of biodiversity and forest preservation, but in practice, these concepts of sustainable forestry are not enforced. Most governments lack the funds and technical know-how to make these projects a reality.
 

"Funding for most conservation projects comes from foreign sectors and 70-75% of forestry in the region is funded by external resources....Additionally, a population growth rate exceeding 3% annually, combined with the poverty of rural peoples, makes it difficult for the government to control local subsistence clearing and hunting."

An economic downturn in important parts of the world has many African nations re-examining their forest product harvesting policies. African and international organizations alike have initiated local programs addressing the sustainable management of rainforests. These programs are showing some potential but have had minimal effect to date.

The United Nations is putting some pressure on African governments to abandon tax incentives for practices that encourage deforestation. Ecotourism and bioprospecting are believed to have potential as they add much or more value to local economies when compared with wood products.