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The working sessions of this workshop were introduced with a presentation of the results of the two previous meetings6 on the same subject: (i) CIFOR/GTZ/IKC/TAC/CCAB-AP Pucallpa Workshop (Pucallpa, Peru, June 1997) and (ii) the CIFOR/GTZ/IKC Samarinda Workshop (Samarinda, Indonesia, April 2000)7.

The main issue presented and discussed during this scene setting session was that of the definition of secondary forests in the context of the Latin American and Asian continents and on how such definitions could be adopted and applied in Anglophone African countries. An introductory paper on the overall situation of secondary forests in the region and three concept papers on ecological, socio-economic and policy and capacity building issues related to the management of secondary forests in Anglophone Africa were also presented to help set the scene and subsequent discussions.


Human and animal disturbances as the basis for a definition

Several land and/or forest management practices may be listed as responsible for the establishment and eventual formation of secondary forests in the tropics; however, two stand out. First due to the practice of heavy and unplanned logging operations, which cause considerable disturbance in the original forest. These are usually followed by intensive agricultural practices. This is one of the most common land use change practices in the tropics. A second one includes the clearing of the forest followed by burning of cut trees and other vegetation with the sole intention of practising shifting cultivation. In both cases, agriculture is practised for a relatively short time and then the sites are abandoned and `left' to regrow. In both cases, the number one key ingredient responsible for the formation of the emerging secondary forest is the human activity and influence.

Therefore, in both Latin America and Asia the nature of the influence is human, in which the original forest is destroyed by cutting and burning and is then most often followed by farming and grazing. On the other hand, the nature of the re-growth and establishment of the secondary forest is largely natural creating a new forest which is more homogeneous than a natural forest, with a limited number of species, depending on dominant seed trees nearby, and usually even aged stands.

In the two workshops previously mentioned, the establishment of secondary forests was attributed mainly to human influence because it was considered to be more feasible to influence and change human behaviour but not so readily that of a natural process. Although it was realized that disturbances to a natural forest, which may lead to the formation of a secondary forest, can also be natural (such as in the case of hurricanes, floods and high winds), it was considered that in the long run human disturbance happens on an everyday basis worldwide and that therefore its influence on the formation of this resource is much more significant than natural causes.

The disturbance by animals to the natural forests, mainly by big game such as elephants, which may lead to the formation of secondary forest, was not considered important either in Latin America or in Asia and therefore is not reflected in the definition arrived at in those two workshops. However, in deriving a definition of secondary forest in the African context, animal influence needs to be considered since cases have been known in the continent where a unique cause of destruction of the forest is large animals, mainly elephants. In the continent, destruction by large animals may not only be responsible for the destruction of the primary forest followed eventually by the formation of secondary forests but also for the elimination of some tree species.

Canopy disturbance

It is recognized that forests are continuously submitted to natural disturbance, either by strong winds, rain, flood, hurricanes, windfall and others. Although not alone, the degree of disturbance will also determine whether a secondary forest is formed or not. The question may be how much disturbance to the natural forest is actually considered to be an important and determining factor, or what degree of disturbance is "significant" enough to start a successional process and be responsible for the formation of the resource? Traditional logging normally creates a "significant" degree of canopy disturbance, whereas the impact created by reduced impact logging practices (RIL) is usually, and is intended to be, minimal or "not significant enough" to create a new forest called "secondary".

Therefore the "significance" will be determined by how heavy or how light is the clearing of the forest and, to a certain degree, by the kind of agricultural practices used to prepare the site for planting, such as fire. On the other hand the definition could consider whether the frequency of the disturbance is a single event or a cumulative series of events over a long period of time.

Artificial vs natural regeneration

Some secondary forests may be established naturally but the richness of the variety and number of species/ha may be low. Silviculturally a forest under those conditions may require enrichment planting to stock the site to adequate levels of number and variety of species per hectare.

Thus, in arriving at a definition of secondary forest it may also be necessary to "draw" a boundary line which may address the gradient between natural and artificial systems in order to consider if a forest is secondary or not even when enrichment planting or other artificial means takes place in a natural regeneration situation.

Secondary forests vs secondary vegetation

Secondary forests may not necessarily be the same as secondary vegetation mainly because the former involves trees (woody perennial plant with a well-defined stem or trunk of at least 5m height). This may not be the case of secondary vegetation in Africa, which may not necessarily imply trees. However, in a natural succession scenario, shrub, grasslands and even savannas can turn into a young and, eventually, mature secondary forest. If the succession continues, there may be cases where it is no longer possible to differentiate between a mature secondary forest and a natural primary forest.

However, the most determining factors that differentiate both types of forest are the structure and species composition: a natural forest presents more species/ha and the age, diameter and species composition is more varied; whereas in a secondary forest the number of species/ha is usually limited to a few and the age diameter class structure tends to be more homogeneous. So, for example, a RIL operation with properly planned selective logging removing only a few stem/ha will not normally create major changes to the original forests and therefore most likely will not promote the right environment for the establishment of a secondary forest.

In summary, the previous discussion raises the following question: are secondary and primary forests in arid to semi-arid zones in Africa as distinct as they may be in moist areas?


The extent of secondary forests in Africa is not known. Two main reasons for this may be that (a) there is no definition of secondary forests in the region and therefore most inventories may be registering tree data as coming from the same type of forest, and (b) most governments may not consider that keeping forestry statistics is an important issue and therefore may not allocate the necessary resources, especially funds, to the activity. These create an evident lack of important information and statistics on forest resources and therefore their contribution to the gross domestic product can only be estimated.

Despite the lack of such statistics, some of the country papers prepared for discussion during this workshop suggested that "most" of the forests in Anglophone Africa are secondary in nature, having originated as natural re-growth after mainly heavy human influence. On the other hand, other papers suggested that there are some areas where secondary forests are growing even though the original forests (including woodlands) have never been logged or are in an advanced stage of recovery - in terms of floristic/structural composition - and not differing (floristically/structurally) from primary forests.

The vegetation forming secondary forests in the vast part of semi-arid to sub-humid Africa appears to be mainly woodlands and savannas. And it is uncertain whether the latter have or have not been historically subject to heavy human and/or natural influence or whether they have always been secondary in nature. Thus it would be necessary to determine how responsible variables such as increasing population, economic changes and some forms of so-called development are responsible for the destruction of the natural forest which in turn has led to the formation and establishment of secondary forests.

In practice woodlands and savannas in arid to semi-arid lands in Africa appear to be the most common types of forest in the region. Therefore it would seem certain to conclude that most of these are indeed secondary forests since savannas and other woodlands are usually the result of the destruction of the original natural forest caused mostly by wild fires.

Yet, fire alone may not be the only cause responsible for the establishment of secondary forests in Africa's savannas and woodlands since in many cases fire is only the "spark" that triggers subsequent practices under adverse weather conditions. This may be observed in different fire management areas in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe where vegetation changes are mainly the product of the severe climate regimes including low rainfall and extended dry seasons which create a proper environment for locals to use fire as a management tool in the preparation of fields for agriculture and/or for the production of grasses and other plant species used as food for cattle.

Some forms of fire can be considered as a natural disturbance factor and therefore a natural component of the formation of woodland vegetation. Man is part of the fire scene and has used it for millions of years. But man alone is not responsible for fire as this can also be started naturally by lightning and intensified by seasonally strong winds and other causes. If fire is excluded (directly or indirectly through high pressure grazing) dense woody vegetation can also regrow. Many species have specific adaptations to tolerate fire of a specific regime (frequency, intensity, season, etc). If fire is substituted as one of several disturbance factors, the vegetation likewise can also change. For example, annual dry-season fires may cause woodland to turn into grassland, depending on the burning season. However, if the fire incidence in the woodlands is reduced through prevention and protection, the presence of fire-intolerant species, which are usually woody, may increase. On the other hand, if the fire frequency is increased in the peak dry season in some areas, the tendency for the woody component is to be reduced; and on the contrary, the herbaceous component, made up particularly of grasses, tends to increase.

It is also known that if fire is used properly it can be a very useful tool in forest management and consequently very important in the establishment of secondary forests, or "secondary woodlands" as they may be referred to in some parts of Africa, as in Mozambique. The key, therefore, is to know what is the `norm' in terms of fire regime, species composition and vegetation structure and how do management interventions change that. The question is also to what degree do human interventions, such as timber harvesting and other forms of resource use, contribute to an increase in the impact when complemented with fire.

Other socio-political events are also responsible for the formation of secondary forests in parts of Africa. Wars in the region, for example, have displaced thousands of people who have been forced to leave their villages and agricultural fields. Surrounding vegetation, especially in new establishment zones, has suffered increased population pressure for new land for agricultural production. Vegetation has been destroyed and after some years woodlands have established and grown into young stands with the characteristics of a secondary forest; that is, with similar floristic composition but different in stand structure to that of a primary forest.

Therefore, a secondary forest focus is potentially useful in Africa for:


A successional stage plays a major role in defining the typology of a secondary forest. Vegetation types, ownership patterns, land use and nature of influence or other criteria are also important factors that influence the typology. Each vegetation formation and type will have a range of vegetation communities that represent successional stages. All the non-mature stages are basically secondary, i.e. in a recovery stage after major disturbance, either naturally or human-induced. In Asia a typology for secondary forest was created based on land use origin and nature of human influence. These categories depend on the type of land use system in place. For example, after a severe fire, one can refer to the forest growing as a "post-fire" secondary forest, and after a destructive timber extraction it is called "post-extraction" secondary forest. Other common types of secondary forest in Asia and Latin America that could be applied in Africa include swidden fallow, post abandonment and rehabilitated secondary forests.

The unknown at this point in the Anglophone African context is whether such typology of secondary forest suitable, totally or partially, to Asia and Latin America is applicable and useful in all types of forest and ecosystems in Africa.

In summary, for Latin America and Asia, the typology of secondary forests depends mostly on land use activities. The region would seem to have to define whether any typology developed is more useful for wet than for dry or semi-dry areas in Africa.


The following are ideas discussed in turn regarding the definition of secondary forests.

1. Is it possible in Africa to easily differentiate between an "old forest" and a "secondary forest"? Over a long period of time, a secondary forest may eventually have all the characteristics of a natural forest, and may therefore be recognized as one. Also, over a long period of time, similar structures and functions could develop, though not exactly like those in the original forest. Some long-term growth studies on fixed plots with marked trees have shown that in essence there is no ultimate `original' forest, since a mature forest in a particular habitat may eventually have a broadly similar floristic and structural composition after different disturbances, and may even change in the mature stage from year to year.

2. Why, in trying to find a suitable definition for secondary forests for Africa, should the focus be just on human activities? The main reason for considering human influence is because human behaviour can be easily influenced whereas one cannot change a natural process so readily. But there is also a similarity in impact and response between certain natural disturbances and certain types of human impact. It therefore becomes useful to develop a basis for sustainable resource management - forests can recover even if we sometimes think that they have been severely degraded.

3. Why are mixed planted and natural forest categories included in secondary forest? The reasoning given was that in fine-tuning the definition it is necessary to draw a line somewhere because there will always be "grey" areas when trying to differentiate between a natural and a secondary forest. On the other hand, a disturbed forest may require some planting and/or enrichment planting and still be considered natural, whereas in a secondary forest the regeneration has to be natural. When discussing the issue of "disturbance", the tendency may frequently to blame human activities only; on the contrary, "recovery" may be considered mostly natural even though both humans and nature can act in both scenarios. The natural recovery process can be facilitated in many ways, and this helps to rehabilitate degraded forest in a useful way (in socio-economic terms, and in cost-effectiveness).


This background paper highlighted important issues in secondary forests in Africa including an analysis of the concept of secondary forests, their causes of formation and functions, typology, extent and potentials. One important part of this introductory paper was the description of stakeholders' interest and participation in the management, conservation and use of the goods and services that secondary forests provide.

The paper lists a series of priority actions which if implemented should facilitate the management of secondary forests in Anglophone African countries. Some of the more important actions include the following:

The paper concludes by emphasizing that secondary forests are currently an integral part of the landscape in tropical Africa. Their sustainable management is very important, not only for providing environmental goods and services for the sustainable livelihood of communities but also to save the remaining primary forests. Therefore all national governments and other stakeholders should take decisions and actions to promote secondary forest management in the shortest time possible.

Finally, the paper raises the following important questions and comments:

1. At the local or community level, are forests in general being managed sustainably? The answer to this question can only be speculative as such information, especially at the local level, is lacking; therefore, it is very important that the corresponding national forestry authorities take the lead in documenting these experiences.

2. What does land tenure have to do with secondary forests, their management, conservation and use? Normally secondary forests in Africa are communal property, thus any development would require full participation by all affected stakeholders. Culturally, the tendency is for an individual not to be too interested in developing a piece of land and/or forest if it is not her/his legal property. At present, there are no incentives to invest in this area.


During this session of the workshop, the following thematic and concept papers concerning specific issues of tropical secondary forest management, conservation and use in Anglophone Africa were presented as supporting material for discussions:

a. Ecological issues

Despite the recognized important role of secondary forests, sub-Saharan African forests continue to disappear at an alarming pace. The history of forest development in the region shows that care for forests and trees dates from pre-colonial times. The Anglophone African countries share a common background in the evolution of modern forestry and have developed comprehensive policies and legislative instruments to guide forest development and management. Policy documents show a strong commitment to maintaining an area of forest cover for production of wood, generation of employment, conservation of habitats and biological resources, provision of environmental services, supporting agriculture and maintaining forest-based industries.

The following are some of the observations and concepts that this paper presented in relation to ecological aspects that influence the establishment and management of secondary forests in the region:

This paper raises the question of whether secondary forests can reach the same structure as primary forests. Even though there are old secondary forests whose structure is very similar to that of a primary forest, there would always continue to be some differences between both types, especially in species composition, structural form and a much narrower age class range.

b. Socio-economic issues

This paper attempted to provide information through a literature review of socio-economic issues affecting the establishment, management, conservation and sustainable use of secondary forests. It reported that contrary to the considerable amount of literature related to natural forests in Africa, there is very little specific to secondary forests.

The major socio-economic issues and opportunities presented and discussed in this paper include those dealing with forest management and non-wood forest products (NWFPs), goods and services. Examples of these include the following: community-based forest resources management, buffer zone agroforestry, forest fires, harvesting of building poles, fuelwood and shifting cultivation, goods and services of secondary forests such as hunting and trade in bush meat, medicinal and edible wild plants, beekeeping and honey collection, basketry, wood carving, grazing and ecotourism. Other issues discussed in the paper include management of sacred groves/traditional forest reserves, tenure systems, forest user rights and conflicts, evictions and resettlement from forest reserves, multiple-use policy and the concept of integrated development and conservation.

The paper points out that there is a need to develop methodologies for assessing the "true value" of secondary forests and their products with the aim of enhancing the sustainable management of this resource. The paper also discussed the economic importance of the various types of products derived from these forests. An important point raised during the discussions was that socio-economic aspects presented are also applicable to natural primary forest and that therefore there is a need to look at the micro-economics of secondary forests.

A major conclusion drawn from this concept paper is that strategies for the management, conservation and use of secondary forests in Anglophone African countries need to be developed taking into account local socio-economic factors. The potential socio-economic constraints to secondary forest management lie in (a) continued distrust and antagonism between local communities and forest managers who impede local participation in forest management, and (b) lack of alternative livelihood activities.

Gender, land and tree tenure and resource use play an important role in the management, conservation and use of this type of forest. In some countries of the region, women may constitute up to about 80 percent of labour in agriculture, growing crops and planting trees; thus gender issues are critical in the management activities and decision-taking related to the resources. However, it is also to be noted that some kinds of tenure regimes are unfavourable to women and minorities when it comes to ownership of woodlots and tree planting on farms. In Uganda, there have been cases reported where women are reluctant to plant trees on land owned by men because they may have no say in ownership of the products such as timber or fruits.

c. Political and institutional issues of secondary forest management

The paper addressed the issue of the alarming decline of the forest cover and consequently of the quality and quantity of forest products and services in the region. Changes are attributed to a lack of streamlined and democratic institutional arrangements and of political will on the part of the responsible authorities. Despite external pressure from the more influential international stakeholders, countries need to concentrate on what is more practical and relevant for improving the livelihoods of their citizens, especially the disadvantaged rural poor who depend mostly on natural resources for subsistence. The paper indicates that, to achieve such goals, countries need to make important and practical political decisions that may enable them to develop new civil society institutions required for improving governance and accountability regarding forest use.

Some of the most important issues raised by this concept paper may be summarized as follows:

Finally the paper discussed two so-called "missing links" in political-institutional arrangements for the sustainable management of tropical secondary forests:

In practice policy-makers formulate policies as a routine obligation often without clearly defining how genuinely committed the State will be to see such policies work. Furthermore, once in place, forest policies need to be supported and reviewed regularly. Governments need to take bold political decisions and develop new civil society institutions to improve governance and accountability regarding forest use. In summary, the level of political will and institutional commitment is very low.

Then there is the issue of values. The decision to differentiate between high value forests in good condition and `wastelands' and `degraded forests', and to apply different concepts of participation in each case tends to raise doubts about the viability of community forest management since the tendency is to give communities the custodianship of only degraded and marginal forests.

d. The contribution of agroforestry to improving overall stakeholders' livelihoods

This presentation was made given the close relationship between some agroforestry systems and secondary forests both in their management and in the products, goods and services that they provide to society in general. Some agroforestry lots when abandoned in the long run have the potential to turn into secondary forests even if some enrichment planting may have to take place. On the other hand, under certain favourable conditions and the application of appropriate forest management techniques, secondary forests can provide the right environment for the establishment and practice of agroforestry. Both systems can help rehabilitate a site.

However, the possibilities explained above raise some questions, which need answers:

1. In areas being rehabilitated, should indigenous or exotic species be used?

In practice, both could be used. To rehabilitate a site, priority should be given to the appropriate native tree species, which are well known and adaptable to the area. However, when exotic species, such as Grevillea, a native of Australia, or Alnus of Nepal, are proven in Anglophone Africa - either through everyday practice or through research on species adaptation to the local environmental conditions, then they can also be introduced. These two species, for example, have adapted very well to the East Central African region and consequently are widely used in agroforestry systems.

2. Does the introduction of exotic species upset the ecological balance?

In introducing exotic plants, foresters need to be aware of the importance of maintaining a balance between ecological and socio-economic aspects. If such objective is not achieved, then it is uncertain to predetermine whether results end up being positive or negative. Consequently, the critical points for foresters to manage a forest are precisely those trades off.

3. Does ICRAF have any programmes outside farmlands?

ICRAF encourages its partners to deal with forests outside farmland but also in buffer zones and watersheds. For example, the Mount Kenya forests are entirely managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service, because of their touristic value and because the Service is better able to carry on the pertaining activities. The Organization works with communities using the forest and encourages them to use a programme called "Alternatives to Slash and Burn (ASB - developed by ICRAF). ASB is mainly used for agricultural production but since in many parts of Africa forests are cleared, totally or partially, and used for that purpose, ASB is also designed to help use forest resources, products, goods and services in a sustainable manner. For example, this is the case of the Damar agroforests in Indonesia. In Cameroon, CARE International and World Vision are using ASB for the domestication of bush mango. In Uganda ICRAF has introduced ASB around the Bwindi impenetrable forest to help conserve the buffer zone and stop the agriculture frontier from advancing towards the park where the remaining numbers of the mountain gorilla are to be found.

6 (i) CIFOR/GTZ/Ministerio de Cooperación Técnica del Reino de los Países Bajos/IKC/TAC/CCAB-AP. 1997. Memorias del Taller Intrnacional sobre el estado actual y potencial del manejo y desarrollo del bosque secundario tropical en América Latina. Pucallpa Peru; 2-6/06/1997; and (ii) Chokkalingam, U., Smith, J., De Jong W., and Sabogal C. (Guest Editors). 2001. Secondary forests in Asia; their diversity, importance and role in future environmental management. Forest Research Institute of Malaysia and the Center for International Forestry Research. Journal of Tropical Forest Science; Volume 13(4). pp. 834.

7 CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research); GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit GmbH, Germany); IKC: Reference Centre for Nature Management (IKC/Netherlands; currently: EC LNV); OTAC: Organización del Tratado de Cooperación Amazónico; CCAB-AP: Consejo Centroamericano de Bosques y Áreas Protegidas.

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