Past, present and future perspectives


Southern Africa has one of the fastest growing populations in the world and faces the challenge of trying to increase food supplies by some 3 per cent per year. To date, this challenge has been addressed by improvements in agricultural production, and by bringing large areas of wooded land under cultivation. The sub-region is therefore witnessing an increasingly high rate of deforestation, mainly due to human activities. Rates of deforestation over the last 10 years have ranged from 2.4 per cent per year in Malawi to 0.1 per cent per year in South Africa, whilst Swaziland has experienced a 1.2 per cent per year net increase in the its forest area (FAO 2001a). The other main pressure leading to deforestation in the sub-region is fuelwood harvesting and tree cutting for charcoal (Chenje 2000). Studies show that both rural and urban demands for wood energy have increased, and it is expected that these demands will almost double over the next 30 years due to growing populations and economic conditions (FAO 2001b). For example, worsening poverty in some urban areas is forcing many people to turn to charcoal and fuelwood to meet their domestic energy requirements because these are cheap and fuelwood can be collected rather than purchased (World Bank 1996). In some countries, particularly those in which charcoal use is prevalent (Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia), trading in charcoal is a major source of income for some households, contributing to the rate of wood collection and deforestation. In Zambia, for example, more than half the country's fuelwood is converted to charcoal, requiring the clearance of some 430 km2 of woodland every year to produce more than 100 000 tonnes of charcoal (Chenje 2000). Commercial logging is a further cause of deforestation, and, in some cases, refugees from the wars in Angola and Mozambique have resettled in wooded areas, contributing to tree-clearance.

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Illegal logging of Camphor trees, Kilimanjaro Forest Reserve, Tanzania

Christian Lambrechts, UNF/UNEP/KWS/University of Bayreuth/WCST

Selective harvesting of forest species is intensifying pressures on forest and woodland resources, and has the potential to degrade habitats, reduce biodiversity, and impair ecosystem functions such as water and soil quality regulation, even though clear felling does not occur. Commercial exploitation of medicinal plants from forests and woodland is an increasingly important component of selective deforestation, resulting in the localized disappearance of certain plant species. Commercialization of particular crafts, such as basket making, is also causing the disappearance of certain plant species. Another issue of concern is that species introduced for plantation forestry production are rapidly invading grassland ecosystems where they use vast amounts of water, disturb ecosystem functioning, and reduce biodiversity. Selective harvesting results in changes to the biodiversity and relative abundance of different species, as well as changing the microclimate, global climate, nutrient cycles and hydrological regimes.

Reduced forest cover and reduced forest quality accelerate soil erosion, sedimentation and siltation as well as siltation-induced flooding at points far away from the deforested areas. Soil erosion is probably the most important factor in the decline in agricultural productivity. This impacts most severely on rural communities that are most dependent on small-scale agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods.

Other impacts of forest and woodland loss or degradation include loss of resources for future exploitation, either local or commercial, for agriculture, pharmaceuticals, or crafts. It is estimated that 300 000 to 400 000 hectares of natural grassland forests and plant species of medicinal value are destroyed in Tanzania each year. Tanzania has one of the largest ruminant livestock populations in Africa, many of them owned by pastoralists, and it is clear that the seriousness of this loss for the health and welfare of livestock (and therefore for that of their owners) will escalate in the near future (Ole Lengisugi and Mziray 1996).

Towards sustainable management and conservation of forests and woodlands in Southern Africa

Most forests in Southern Africa are either state-owned or privatized with ownership by local communities being only weakly supported by laws (Alden Wily 2000). The failure to involve local people and have tangible benefits accrue to them has disassociated people from forests and even made them co-exploiters and co-destroyers of their own forests. With growing democratic governance and rapid spread of environmental awareness, community participation in forest management and land tenure reform is being promoted and is gaining popularity as a sustainable means of natural resource management and income generation. In Tanzania, for example, a 'Land Act' clearly states that forest reserves may be owned by the state, private companies, or communities and legislation in South Africa also makes provision for community ownership of reserved forests. Local community actions have been encouraged in Malawi (see Box 2d.6) and recent legislation enacted in the country recognizes traditional ownership rights in the form of Village Forest Areas. Joint Management Committees in Zambia, Local Resource Management Councils on Mozambique, and Management Authorities in Namibia, have also been established to coordinate allocation of access rights and/or distribute benefits among the local population (Alden Wiley, 2000).

Box 2d.6 Local community action in Malawi

In Malawi a recent project has successfully trained members of local communities in agro-forestry and extension work.Member of local communities working as extension officers for the Department of Forestry have until recently been excluded from most training programmes, and are thus not performing their duties optimally or achieving recognition. A local development organisation has worked with these people, training them in forestry and agro-forestry practices, the Forestry Policy Act, participatory rural appraisal tools, extension techniques, and community motivation. This has boosted both their morale and performance, and has improved communication among a wide range of stakeholders.

Source: COMPASS 2000.

The Southern African countries of Angola and Tanzania are members of the ATO, and each has participated in developing criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management (FAO 2001a). Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have some forest area certified by the FSC, and all countries of the sub-region have some of their forests in protected areas. Efforts to promote sustained regional self-sufficiency in forest and wood products, and to enhance the economic and environmental performance of the forestry sector are being pursued through the SADC Forestry Sector. The Forestry Sector coordinates programmes in forestry education and training, improved forest resource management, forest resources assessment and monitoring, forest research, utilization of forest products, marketing, and environmental protection. The Sector also developed the Forestry Policy and Development Strategy, approved in September 1997. The Strategy identifies priorities for cooperation in building capacity in sustainable management, protection and conservation of forest resources, facilitating of trade in forest products, promoting sustained regional self-sufficiency in forest and wood products, improving public awareness of forestry, and enhancing forest research.