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1.1. Country Profile

1.1.1. Geographical Location, Demography and Economy

Eritrea is located in the northeastern part of Africa and covers an area of 124,320 km2. It is bounded by the Sudan in the west and north west, Ethiopia in the south, Djibouti in the southeast, and the Red Sea in the east (FAO/ Sectoral review, 1994). Administratively, Eritrea is divided into six zones (zoba) namely: Makel, Debub, Gash-Barka, Anseba, Semenawi Keih Bahri, and Debubawi Keih Bahri.

The population of Eritrea is about 3.5 million out of whom 80% live in rural areas and derive their livelihood from agriculture. There are nine linguistic groups namely: Afar, Bilen, Tigre, Saho, Tigrigna, Kunama, Nara, Hidareb, and Rashaida (MOA, 1993).

Due to the prolonged liberation war, the economy of the country progressively declined during those years. Between 1985 and 1990, real gross domestic production (GDP) declined by 0.7% per annum, but after independence it is increasing rapidly

(E.g. in 1997 an increase of 8% was reported). Agriculture is the main economic sector, both as a source of food and raw material for industry. In 1994, crop production, livestock, forestry, and fishery contributed about one-third of the gross domestic production (FAO, 1996).

1.1.2. Bio-Physical Environment


Eritrea is a country of great topographical diversity. Through millennia, erosion, tectonic movements and subsidence have occurred and continue to occur accentuating the unevenness of the surface. Highland areas stretch between the eastern and western lowland plains. Altitudes range from the highest peak of Mount Soira, 3018 metres above sea level, down to the Denkel Depression, about 100 metres below sea level (MOA, 1994).

Agro-Ecological Zones

According to FAO (1994), Eritrea is divided into six agro-ecological zones. These are: the Central Highland Zone (CHZ), situated at altitudes over 1,500 m with over 500 mm of rainfall; the Western Escarpment Zone (WEZ), situated at altitudes between 750 and 1,500 m with annual rainfall between 400 and 600 mm; the South Western Lowland Zone (SWLZ), situated at altitudes between 600 and 750 m, with annual rainfall between 500 and 700 mm; the Green Belt Zone (GBZ), located between 750 to over 2000 m, with rainfall from 700 to more than 1000 mm; the Coastal Plains Zone (CPL), from below sea level to 600 m, with less than 200 mm rainfall; and the north-western Lowland Zone(NWLZ), with an altitude from 400 to 1,500 m, and up to 300 mm of rainfall.


Due to its geographical setting, Eritrea has diverse climates ranging from hot arid, adjacent to the Red Sea to temperate sub-humid in isolated micro-catchments within the eastern escarpment of the Highlands. About 72% of Eritrea is classified as very hot, with mean annual temperature exceeding 24o C, while not more than 14% is classified as mild or cool with mean annual temperature below 21.5o C (FAO, 1996).

Most parts of the country receive rainfall from the southwest Monsoon, from April to September. Some rain falls in April/May while the main rain starts in June, with the heaviest precipitation in July and August. Only the coastal plains and the central part of the eastern escarpment of the central highland have winter rainfall, November through March, that is borne by north and south-east continental air streams that carry little moisture until affected by the Red Sea. The total annual rainfall tends to increase from north to south, from less than 200 mm at the northern border with Sudan to more than 700 mm in the south-western part of the country. The Green Belt Zone, receives the highest annual rainfall averaging about 900 mm (FAO, 1994).


The soils of Eritrea are complex. In the northern and southern sections of the Red Sea coastal plains, they are predominantly sandy desert soils. In other part of the plains, ortho-solonchaks, regosols, and andosols are to be found. In the Highlands, the predominant soils are chromic, eutric, and calsic cambisols of strong red colour. Other soils found in the Highlands are lithosols, xerosols and fluvisols. Soils in the western plains include vertisols and fluvisols (FAO, 1996).


1.2. Significance of the Study

About a century ago, almost one third of Eritrea’s territory was covered with natural forest and extra vast area of acacia woodland. Now the country is left with less than 1% natural forest and very few million hectares of degraded acacia and scrublands

(Table 1). As the forests were deteriorated, tremendous important habitat of the wild life was dwindled and so for the degradation of land fertility due to high rate of soil erosion. The main reason for the aggravation of the process were intensive logging for timber, charcoal making, agricultural expansion, poles and post for traditional house ‘Hidmo’ and fire wood and generally unwise land use policy of the successive colonial Governments.

Fuelwood is one of the serious detrimental demands on ecology. It is the major source of household energy in the country. Nearly every household in the urban centres and all the rural areas of Eritrea, depend on wood as their main source of energy. It is very evident then many more trees have to be cut down on a continued basis from the limited resource to meet the relentless demand of fuelwood by the population.

A government legislation banning the cutting of live trees is in effect since 1994, but the compelling demand for this energy source makes it hard to hold as people who are left with virtually no energy alternative in their hands will be forced to continue cutting. The biggest share, for cause of forest distraction, lies with tree cutting for the purpose of fuelwood. This is followed by timber cutting for use of construction poles.

This paper reviews the existing studies related to fuelwood and/or charcoal in the country during the last five years at national or regional level, and analyses the past, present and possible future trends of these products in the context of local consumption.


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