Past, present and future perspectives

Continued from previous page

The moist tropical forests of Africa support an estimated 1.5 million species (WCMC 2000), which in turn support the local communities in terms of their food, shelter, utensils, clothing, and medicinal needs. By far the most dominant use of woodland resources is for domestic energy needs, mainly from wood and charcoal. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, traditional fuels accounted for 63.5 per cent of total energy use in 1997 (World Bank 1999). Other forest and woodland resources gathered and used by households or traded informally amongst villagers include meat, fruits and vegetables, construction and craft materials, medicinal products, and honey. In Western and Central Africa, more than 60 wildlife species are commonly consumed and bushmeat (mainly small animals and invertebrates) harvested from forests is a traditional protein supplement to the diets of local communities (FAO 1995). The Cross River State rainforest of Nigeria is home to over 700 species of plants and animals, over 430 of which are used by local residents (CRSFP 1994). For instance, bushmeat provides 70 per cent of the animal protein in Southern Ivory Coast; 80-90 per cent in Liberia and 55 per cent in Sierra Leone (FAO 1990). In the Western African savannas, from the Gambia to Cameroon, local residents ferment wild beans (Parkia sp.) to make a nutritious traditional food that provides protein and fat. The pericarp (plant ovary wall) is a source of vitamin C to children who eat it raw (FAO 1995). In South Africa, communities in woodland areas are known to have regularly used between 18 and 27 wild products from up to 300 species of plants and animals (Shackleton, Netshiluvhi, Shackleton, Geach, Ballance & Fairbanks 1999), and in Namibia wild foods provided up to 50 per cent of household food requirements in rural villages (Ashley & LaFranchi 1997). Villagers also gain benefits by using forests and woodlands as grazing areas and as sources of animal fodder, and through agro-forestry and inter-cropping. An example of a comparative valuation of such woodland resources is shown in Figure 2d.2.

In addition to such tangible benefits, forests and woodlands have been important for cultural, spiritual or religious purposes. The Zigua ethnic group in Tanzania, for example, protect 748 forests, which they use for burial sites and ceremonies, worshipping, traditional practices and training, Koluhombwa (places where people with incurable diseases are left to die), meeting places and boundaries and for water protection (Mwihomeke, Msangi, Mabula, Ylhaisi & Mndeme 1998). Some of the forests have multiple uses. Conservation of resources and biodiversity may not have been the immediate goal in protection of these forests, but there are indications that those that remain are high in rare or previously unknown species and are highly valued by the adjoining communities (Mwihomeke and others 1998). Types of use of traditionally protected forsests are shown in Figure 2d.3.

At a national level, the commercial exploitation of African forests and woodlands is an important source of income, foreign exchange, and employment. For example, Cameroon, one of Africa's leading producers and exporters of tropical logs and sawn timber, earned US$436 million in 1998 from export of wood products, mainly sawnwood (FAO 2001a). South Africa is Africa's largest producer of industrial roundwood and an important producer and exporter of pulp and paper (almost exclusively from plantations). In 1998, exports of wood products totalled US$837 million (FAO 2001a). Apart from tropical hardwoods, forests provide a wide array of products that have industrial value: oils, gum, latex, resins, tannins, steroids, waxes, edible oils, rattans, bamboo, flavourings, spices, pesticides and dyes (Park 1992). Many commercial crops originated from tropical forest plants including coffee and bananas, oranges, sugar, pineapples, rice, maize cocoa. There is concern that, as forests are degraded, genetic resources needed for the development of new food plants may also be lost (Park 1992). For example, the role of forest crop in the provision of mother (shade) trees for the establishment of cacao and coffee plantations by local communities is significant.

The enormous economic, social, cultural, and environmental value of forests means that the high rates of deforestation in Africa are cause for attention and require immediate remedial action. However, it is not just clear felling but loss of certain species and processes that causes damage to forests (both natural and human-induced).

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Figure 2d.2: Comparative woodland resource valuation in Iringa villages

Rodgers, et al, 2000

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Figure 2d.3: Types of use of the traditionally protected forests of Zigua ethnic group (by forests)

Mwihomeke, et al. 1998