The African Rainforest

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

The 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, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), 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.

Except for the Congo Basin, the tropical rainforests of Africa have been largely depleted by commercial exploitation by logging and conversion for agriculture, and in West Africa, nearly 90 percent of the original rainforest is gone and the remainder is heavily fragmented and in poor use.

Especially problematic in Africa is desertification and conversion of rainforests to erodible agriculture and grazing lands, though there are a number of global initiatives in place through the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations which are hoping to mitigate these concerns.

Background About the Rainforest

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 these 38 countries exist mainly in West and Central Africa. These countries, for the most part, are very poor and live at the subsistence level.

Most of the tropical rainforests of Africa exist in the Congo (Zaire) River Basin, though remnants also exist 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 realms, and the outlying portions of this rainforest are steadily becoming a desert.

Over 90% 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 per cent. In the whole of Africa, for every 28 trees cut down, only one tree is replanted.

Challenges and Solutions

Says 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," Butler continues. "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 reexamining their forest product harvesting policies. Local programs addressing the sustainable management of rainforests have been initiated by African and international organizations alike. 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 much or more value for local economies than wood products.