Despite increased understanding of the importance of forests to climate change, Africa’s forest cover is declining. Carbon loss from Africa’s tropical forests is intensifying as a result of deforestation and extensive degradation.
According to Marie Avana-Tientcheu, a senior program officer at the African Forest Forum’s (AFF) people and climate change program, the FAO’s Forest Resources Assessment (2020) shows that Africa had the highest yearly rate of net forest loss between 2010 and 2020, at 3.9 million hectares per year.
Africa had 636,639,000 hectares of forested land in 2020, accounting for 16 percent of the world’s forested land. Eastern and southern Africa account for 46.5 percent, western and central Africa for 48 percent, and northern Africa for 5.5 percent.
With 446 million hectares of wooded land, Africa is the continent with the most trees, including urban trees, orchards, palms, and agroforestry. Africa’s woods, on the other hand, face a number of risks. Wildfires, pests, and diseases are at the top of the list. At least 90% of these woods are naturally regenerating, with the remaining 10% planted.
Since 1990, Africa’s net loss has risen from 3.28 million hectares per year to 3.94 million hectares per year between 2010 and 2020.
“This implies we’re utilizing what’s already there and doing very little to plant or regenerate these resources,” Prof Avana-Tientcheu explained.
She was presenting at an AFF workshop in Mombasa from March 28 to April 1 on the challenges and potential of forest management for sustainable development in Africa in the context of climate change.
According to forest scientist Fredrick Owino, African countries are regressing in terms of forest estates. “In Kenya, for example, we lose 50,000 hectares of forest cover each year and replace it with less than that,” he explained.
Wildfires devoured almost 29 percent of forests between 2001 and 2018, according to Prof Avana-Tientcheu, and insects harm 37 percent. Degradation is responsible for 28 percent of the losses, or 1.8 million hectares.
“Four African countries are among the top ten countries in the world with the highest average annual net loss.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo is second in the world, losing more than one million hectares, while Angola is fourth, losing more than 555,000 hectares. “Tanzania ranks fifth with 421,000 hectares of yearly forest loss, while Mozambique ranks tenth with 223,000 hectares of annual forest loss,” she said.
Africa also has the lowest percentage of planted forest in the world, at 2%. Egypt and Libya both have a completely planted forest. Rwanda has planted 54 percent of its forest.
Deforestation and forest conversion to other land uses, such as agriculture and infrastructure, has also grown, rising from 4.096 million hectares per year between 1990 and 2000 to 4.314 million hectares per year between 2000 and 2010, and 4.43 million hectares per year between 2010 and 2020. Africa has the highest annual deforestation rate of 4.41 million hectares from 2015 to 2020, with 50% of it occurring in eastern and southern Africa at 2.2 million hectares per year, followed by central and western Africa at 1.9 million hectares per year.
“The Congolese region continues to supply industrial logs to Europe, China, and the United States.” Over-exploitation of timber and illicit logging are to blame for deforestation in the area. The other cause is agricultural growth, which is responsible for 90% of the Congo Basin’s deterioration, according to Prof Avana-Tientcheu. “Mining and urbanization are both on the rise.”
Mangrove forests are under threat from aquaculture, firewood, and charcoal, according to Lizzie Mujuru, a forest researcher from Zimbabwe’s Bindura University of Science Education. “After fishing, the fishermen use firewood and charcoal from the mangroves to dry their harvest,” she explained.
Over the last decade, Africa has improved its mangrove conservation, with the average annual rate of loss reducing from 6,610 hectares in 1990 to 2000 to 2,330 hectares in 2010 to 2020.
Prof. Owino believes that Africa’s bane is its growing population, a large portion of which is reliant on the forest for subsistence.
Africa’s forests provide ecosystem services such as climate regulation, flood control, pollution abatement, fresh water supply, and soil protection, in addition to the regular forest commodities and services. The importance of Africa’s tropical forests as the planet’s “lungs” is well understood. The trees in these forests extract massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and make oxygen in the process, so assisting in the mitigation of global warming.
“It is anticipated that we are losing carbon stores from our trees,” Sidzabda Djibril Dayamba, AFF’s senior programme officer, said. Eastern and southern Africa have lost roughly 15% of the carbon stored in their forests between 1990 and 2020, with a current value of 26.25 billion tons of carbon in 2020, and western and central Africa have lost 14%, with a current value of 52.546 billion tonnes of carbon in 2020.”
Prof Godwin Kowero, the AFF’s Executive Secretary, noted that one of the most serious issues confronting African forests at the governance level is a lack of adequate finance and management plans. Many African countries, he added, have not taken stock of their forest cover.
Prof Kowero claims that Africa has about ten countries with more than 50 percent tree cover, and five countries with more than 70 percent forest cover, such as Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, and the Seychelles, based on data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Nearly 45 countries on the continent have a forest cover of at least ten percent.
There are around nine countries on the continent that have less than 10% forest cover.